With first-year Celtic Kevin Garnett serving as physical, spiritual and emotional leader of this defensive commitment, the C's who offer a couple of historically uncommitted defenders in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have been great at playing five against the ball.
This gap-and-help philosophy is even more prevalent and needed against James, whose ability to get to the cup (and finish, usually) may be without peer. In the two games in Boston, LeBron made 19 percent of his 42 field-goal attempts. When help forced him to kick the ball to a teammate, the other Cavaliers weren't much better.
When the series shifted to Cleveland, the Celtics went a bit cuckoo in the gap-and-help, enabling James to find even more open teammates, who joined him to score 32 first-quarter points on 65 percent shooting.
It didn't hurt that Cleveland coach Mike Brown adjusted by requiring better offensive spacing, creating greater help-and-recover distance for the Celtics, who were reacting to LeBron's drives.
In fairness to Celtics defenders, it's tough to avoid extreme helping when the player assigned to take on James is Paul Pierce. To prevent LeBron from getting to the rim or finding open shooters along the way, Boston must leave the help/challenge issues with their shot blockers, while instructing perimeter defenders to remain locked on Cleveland's other shooters.
It should be noted that the road Celtics are also leaving more than a bit to be desired on offense. The biggest concern is the lack of a definitive closer on a team with three alleged superstars. Pierce certainly has the selfish history to assume the role of late-game shooter, but lacks the portfolio to finish playoff games with any regularity. He's also guilty of abandoning his teammates on the boards, collecting 13 total rebounds in those four losses.
Allen, who could be mistaken for Judas Shuttlesworth in this postseason, seems like a waste of terrific skill. As one of the league's great shooters, Ray often ignores his above-average ability to put the ball on the deck and attack the rim. It's a career-long defect that has reached the crisis stage as Allen grows older.
In the four playoff defeats, Allen has seven free-throw attempts. Yeah, the visiting team rarely enjoys more trips to the line than the home team, but Allen only has 14 attempts in six games at home.
His reluctance to take the ball hard to the hoop limits the Celtics' ability to use him in screen-and-roll or pop sets with Garnett if a defender goes over the screen (the way he shoots, a defender can't go under), Allen usually fails to take advantage of any delay by turning the corner and going to the basket.
This ball-screen tactic also is wasted in the hands of young point guard Rajon Rondo, whose inability to be a shooting threat creates an even greater isolation-heavy approach through the team's Big Three. And when good defensive teams such as the Cavaliers are able to lock into isolation situations, things get trickier for guys like the too-often-deferring Garnett.
It may be a bit late in the evolution of this year's C's for coach Doc Rivers to make much of a philosophical adjustment on offense. In Utah, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is able to reduce the star-turn predictability of his attack by running Flex continuity. The Flex, which features back screens on the baseline and down screens for curls or jumpers above the elbow, makes everyone on the floor a threat. But his team has run the Flex before and the timing of screens and cuts only gained through repetition gave the Lakers fits on Sunday.
With almost every possession designed to create an opportunity for one of the Big Three, Boston's best shot to avoid stagnation is provided by its defense creating break opportunities.
Please note that if these tactical shifts become too cumbersome, the C's and their fans can lean on the prospect of having 10 more games at home.