Mavericks have no answer for this Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown play

The Celtics’ game plans throughout the Finals have been nothing short of genius, propelling them to a commanding 3-0 series lead. Their strategy? A relentless assault on Luka Doncic and, to a slightly lesser extent, Kyrie Irving. Spoiler alert: neither of them has fared well in these 1-on-1 battles or when tasked with help defense.

Coach Joe Mazzulla turned up the heat on these two in the second half of Game 3 by repeatedly running the same play. The Celtics scored in five different ways off this play, turning Luka and Kyrie’s defense into Swiss cheese. This brilliant halftime adjustment took full advantage of the Mavs’ defensive setup, completely changing the game’s momentum.


The Play: The Celtics’ Empty Corner Pick-and-Roll with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown

Empty corner pick-and-rolls are an NBA staple, where no offensive player is stationed in the corner. This setup allows for a clearer driving lane and isolates the defenders involved in the pick-and-roll.

To kick off the second half, the Celtics ran this play with Tatum setting the screen in the pick-and-roll. Predictably, the Mavs switched on the screen, leaving Tatum with a mismatch against Irving.

Derrick White fed the ball to Jaylen Brown, who had the angle to get Tatum an easy layup. Rinse and repeat: the Celtics ran this play four more times, putting Tatum and Brown in those empty corner actions to force Irving and Doncic into defending them. Each time, they exploited a new weakness in the Dallas defense.

Doncic’s defense in Game 3 was so bad it drew the ire of ESPN analyst Brian Windhorst, who branded his defensive effort as “unacceptable” and called him “a hole on the court.”

Windhorst has a point, but there’s more to the story. The Celtics’ masterful halftime adjustment maximized pressure on Doncic, who was forced to defend numerous actions. This not only exhausted him but also led to him fouling out with more than four minutes left in the game.

Since taking over the team last year, Mazzulla has faced his share of criticism. However, he has found clever ways to attack Doncic and Irving, something the Wolves failed to do in the previous round. He deserves heaps of credit for consistently targeting the Mavs’ weakest links with his top offensive players.

This empty corner pick-and-roll wasn’t just an adjustment; it was the adjustment of the Finals. It might just be the reason the Celtics hang their 18th banner.