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TORONTO – The Bruins have scored less than three goals exactly once in their playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Offense really hasn’t been an issue against a Toronto team that can’t consistently stop the Black and Gold. No, it’s much more about defense and slowing down the Maple Leafs while keeping preventable goals out of the back of their net.
Some of it is about effectively cutting down the transition, stretch passes that Toronto likes to use to kick-start their offense, and that’s about minimizing the risk-taking offensively while also taking care not to allow leaking, sneaking opponents behind their defense. Some of it is just about good, fundamental defense as the Bruins simply didn’t play 2-on-2 situations very well on rushes from the Toronto forwards in their Game 5 loss at TD Garden.
All of it is about holding players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri in check as the Bruins have done for long stretches of the series with a steady diet of Zdeno Chara greeting the Leafs franchise center wherever he goes.
“In games like that we have to be a little better defensively,” said Brad Marchand, referring to Game 5’s defeat where they scored three goals. “We can’t expect to score five goals every game, so we can’t be giving up four [goals]. If we’re a little bit better there and continue to pepper away with the shots, hopefully things will work in our favor.”
Bruce Cassidy went through each of the first three goals allowed by the Bruins in their Game 5 loss last weekend, and each of them needed better “rush defense” executed by the Bruins. The first was a simple one-man rush into the zone by Matthews, the second was Andreas Johnsson getting behind the Bruins defense before connecting with Kadri on a perfect pass, and the third was a backbreaking Tyler Bozak score from the slot after the Bruins had just scored and grabbed momentum in the game. All of them arrived via Toronto’s speed and aggressive mindset entering the offensive zone, and that’s something Boston has stifled to a much more effective degree until Saturday night.
“They make a play up the wall where we’re normally there to contest that, slide and have the appropriate adjustment between the forward and the ‘D.’ We didn’t slide until the rush. That will be addressed and was addressed. That’s what we need to do against Toronto when we have the numbers and we didn’t do it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Then they won a puck at the net where we’re generally good there, but they got it to the net. Give them credit, they got it there. They got it to the net and won a battle by going to the dirty areas.
“The second goal was a 2-on-2 and a good play, but still a 2-on-2. We need to defend it better from our end. From their end, it’s a nice play. The third goal was a quick up, we were a little late trying to kill it. … We were a little late in every area, we needed a save there and we didn’t get it. So those are the three goals I look at, and I look at the rush defense that could have been better.”
Given that the Bruins have scored 20 goals in the five playoff games vs. Toronto and hit the 40 shots on net three different times in the best-of-seven series, it’s about holding the Leafs down a little more effectively as they’ve done in their three wins. If the Bruins can play sound defense and once again slow down the Maple Leafs track meet on the ice, then it’s highly doubtful this series will be going back to Boston for a Game 7.
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MILWAUKEE – As good as the Boston Celtics have been defensively all season, they’ve had a defensive clunker from time to time.
But what we’ve seen thus far after four games is a Milwaukee team that Boston has been unable to slow down or limit offensively.
In the four games thus far, the Bucks have shot 54.2 percent from the field, tops among all playoff teams. And Boston’s defense, which had a league-best defensive rating in the regular season of 101.5, is next-to-last in the playoffs with a defensive rating of 113.9.
When you talk adjustments, none looms any larger for the Celtics than trying to find a way to force Milwaukee into not being quite so efficient.
Of course the shooting of Giannis Antetokoumpo (62 percent) and Khris Middleton (61.5 percent) skew the numbers somewhat, with both shooting better than 60 percent combined in addition to having taken 43.6 percent of all Milwaukee’s shots. For most defenses in the NBA, you would chalk it up as nothing more than the Bucks being red-hot from the field. But Boston isn’t just any team on defense.
The Celtics were the league’s best club in several defensive categories during the regular season, so the sight of them being routinely roasted by the Bucks’ shooters is somewhat surprising and to a lesser degree, disturbing as they try to regain control of the series in Game 5.
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 104-102 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
No one had a better defensive rating (97.0) in the NBA than Aron Baynes, and when you watch him play there is no denying his impact. But the Bucks love to run pick-and-rolls where he is switched out on Giannis Antetokounmpo who has been a major problem. Baynes’ defensive rating in the playoffs has is 115.3 which ranks 149th among players who have played in four playoff games. But he has also been one of Boston’s top rebounders which is in part why the Celtics have reason to be hesitant to limit his playing time too much.
Brown, Tatum ready to shine
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been central figures in Boston’s ascension this season, with both showing noticeable growth in the postseason. They were particularly strong in Boston’s Game 4 loss with Brown scoring a career-high 34 points while Tatum had 21 points with 18 coming in the second half. The future is now for the Celtics, and these two are leading the charge.
Rozier shooting struggles continue
Terry Rozier has been the ultimate litmus test to how Boston is faring in this series. When he has been good, so have the Celtics. And when he has struggled, Boston followed suit with less-than-impressive play. After averaging 23 points in Boston’s Game 1 and Game 2 wins, his scoring dropped significantly to 9.5 points per game in Game 3 and 4 losses.
After being a non-factor, Parker has delivered the kind of bench production the Bucks have been longing for in this series. After scoring just two points in Games 1 and 2 combined, Parker averaged 16.5 points in Games 3 and 4, connecting on 12-for-22 of his shots from the field.
It’s a bit of a head-scratcher that Thon Maker played just one minute in Games 1 and 2 combined and was unleashed at home in Games 3 and 4. To his credit, he was a difference-maker in Game 4 with eight points along with tallying five blocks for the second straight game. Boston has to do a better job of limiting is impact not only as a defender, but also as a 3-point threat. In Games 3 and 4, he was 5-for-9 (55 percent) from 3-point range.