The Most Glaring Weakness for Every Remaining NBA Playoff Team

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 17, 2022

The Most Glaring Weakness for Every Remaining NBA Playoff Team

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    NBA playoff participants are looking to accomplish two things in a series: emphasize their strengths and exploit their opponents' weaknesses.

    The deeper each team traverses into the second season, the harder it becomes to pull that off.

    The competition keeps climbing, and even with another round to go, you could argue it has already crested here in the conference finals. Only four teams remain in pursuit of the title, and all four easily qualify as heavyweight championship contenders.

    Of course, there are no perfect teams—even if one has looked awfully close over the past four-odd months—and we're here to bring those imperfections to light by examining each finalist's biggest weakness.

Boston Celtics: Clutch Offense

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    Credit the Boston Celtics for turning this exercise into a nitpicking process. Everywhere you want to point doesn't feel nearly as problematic as it once did.

    There were times when the ball got super sticky on offense. Now? Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart are dropping six dimes a night, and Boston trails only the Golden State Warriors in postseason assist percentage (65.4). Past glass-cleaning concerns have mostly been silenced since Al Horford's return. This isn't the strongest three-point shooting team, but apparently it might be in playoff practice (second in makes per game, sixth in percentage).

    If this all feels like lofty praise, it should. The Shamrocks had an .813 winning percentage and face-melting plus-14.8 net rating over their final 32 games and then spent the first two rounds sweeping Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets and escaping a 3-2 hole with consecutive double-digit wins over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

    Boston has no glaring weakness, but the stat sheet doesn't love its late play in close games.

    For the season, the Celtics went just 13-22 in games that featured a scoring margin within five points during the game's final five minutes. While most of those contests came before this club caught fire in the second half, Boston still went just 4-5 with a forgettable 35.7/19.2/82.8 clutch shooting slash during its surge. The Celtics are 5-2 in those circumstances this postseason but still own a 38.9/16.7/82.4 slash and 104.9 offensive rating in the clutch.

    That still isn't a major sample size since this group flipped the switch, so maybe there isn't much to see here. But if Tatum can't get it rolling late, the offense isn't exactly littered with closers around him.

    The Miami Heat have the postseason's second-best defensive efficiency, and Boston is right behind at No. 3. The entire series could be a possession-by-possession grind, which will up the pressure on the Celtics' late-game offense to perform against a defense that had the fourth-best efficiency rating in the clutch this season.

Dallas Mavericks: Interior Defense

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    The mere mention of the Dallas Mavericks might paint a universal picture among hoop heads: the sight of Luka Doncic dancing out of a high pick-and-roll and into a step-back three, a dribble drive or an on-time and on-target delivery to an open teammate.

    That remains the club's calling card, but coach Jason Kidd has made aggressive, disciplined defense a close second. Dallas had this season's seventh-most efficient defense and ranked fourth overall from January to April.

    That's astonishing for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the Mavs ranked 21st on the game's less glamorous end just last season. What might be most impressive about the feat, though, is the defensive's lack of interior...well, just about everything.

    There isn't a shot-blocker on the roster. Know who paced this group in rejections? Kristaps Porzingis, who made 34 appearances before being sent packing before the trade deadline. In the playoffs, the Mavericks are averaging just 2.7 blocks per 100 possessions. The only postseason participant to average fewer was ousted in the opening round (Atlanta Hawks).

    Clearly, Dallas is fine sacrificing paint protection, and it's not the only conference finalist that likes leaning into small ball. But it's the one that often feels the smallest since it doesn't really have a player in the mold of a Draymond Green, Grant Williams or P.J. Tucker who can anchor the interior and play bigger than their size. So, the Mavericks not only go without a shot-blocker, they also get clobbered on the glass (46.0 rebound percentage, worst of the playoffs).

    Golden State doesn't have a ton of size, so this may not seem like a big issue in this series. Between Kevon Looney and Draymond Green, though, the Dubs keep active on the boards, ranking sixth among playoff teams in rebound percentage and offensive rebound percentage. Add on that Golden State has averaged more paint points than any conference finalist (46.9 per game), and there are several ways this weakness could doom Dallas.

Golden State Warriors: Turnovers

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    When the Warriors are at their best, they have all the markings of controlled chaos. The players perpetually move, yet they're somehow never out of place. Opposing defenses are on high alert as soon as the ball crosses half court, and yet Golden State always seems to sniff out an unattended spot-up shooter, a cutter sneaking along the baseline or an elite marksman racing around a screen with just enough room to catch and launch.

    Or, when all else fails, the Warriors just give it to Stephen Curry or Jordan Poole and let the magicians create their own magic.

    When it works, there isn't a better show in all of sports. But when it doesn't, that controlled chaos veers quickly into plain, old chaos—a sometimes unbreakable chain of errant passes, forced forays into traffic and all-around recklessness.

    "One thing we know we have to do is get our turnovers down," Draymond Green said on his podcast, via Angelina Martin of NBC Sports Bay Area. "... We definitely have to take better care of the ball. That'll probably be key No. 1 on the offensive end for us."

    Golden State coughed up 109 turnovers in the conference semis alone. No other team turned it over that much, and only the Phoenix Suns—who played an extra game—also recorded more than 90.

    For the postseason, the Warriors have a 15.8 turnover percentage. That ranks 11th, and every participant with a worse mark has already been sent to summer vacation. In the regular season, Golden State ranked 29th at 15.0. Only the Houston Rockets, who encouraged their young players to play through their many mistakes, turned it over at a higher rate.

    The Mavericks have averaged 18.6 points per 100 possessions off turnovers this postseason, which ranks fifth overall and second among conference finalists. The Warriors can't afford to hand over any freebies.

Miami Heat: Half-Court Offense

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    Miami boasts a smothering, versatile defense and an explosive transition attack that comes in waves. When those two items work in concert, it seems unstoppable.

    When the quick-strike scores disappear, though, so does the Heat's invincibility. Make them run half-court offense one possession after the next, and you start to see why the offense didn't crack the regular season's top 10 (12th overall).

    Even with the apparent re-emergence of "Bubble" Jimmy Butler and contributions coming from virtually every roster slot—Max Strus had consecutive double-doubles, Victor Oladipo has pumped in 19-plus points twice, and even Duncan Robinson unleashed a 27-point eruption before losing his rotation role—slowing down the offense still makes it unremarkable.

    Miami has averaged just 93.4 points per 100 half-court plays this postseason, per Cleaning The Glass. That's worst among the conference finalists (Boston is next-lowest at 95.5) and 13th among the 16 playoff participants. And remember, the Heat's playoff road so far featured the Hawks and their 26th-ranked defense and a Philadelphia 76ers squad with a hobbled Joel Embiid and a declining or limited (or both) James Harden.

    Now, the Heat draw the Celtics, whose defense basically lapped the field over the final four months. From January through season's end, there was a wider gap between Boston's defensive efficiency and the second-ranked unit (3.5 points per 100 possessions) than the one separating Nos. 2 and 10 (2.6).

    Miami can get squeezed for spacing, doesn't have many off-the-dribble threats (especially with Kyle Lowry struggling to shake a hamstring injury) and sometimes turns it over at an alarming rate. The Heat can scheme and execute their way to monster nights, but there are others when their offense is hard to watch.


    Statistics courtesy of and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.