Postgame gives Boston Celtics offense a new dimension
Ime Udoka’s offensive plan has come under scrutiny this season, especially for the Boston Celtics’ stagnant attack in the half court. One moment we see a fluid offense, which cuts through defenses like they’re auditioning for head chef, and the next day Boston starts playing “paint is lava” leading to a flurry of late shot attempts. .
With such a topsy-turvy offense, the notion of the point guard has been a recurring theme, as the Celtics often seem clueless when a defense closes up shop. Yet against the New Orleans Pelicans, Boston used a myriad of ways to keep their offense going and remain unpredictable.
One of the most successful aspects of the Celtics’ play against the Pelicans came from the initiation of the position. Whether it’s the low block or the elbow, the Celtics have found versatility using their roster switching as well as the gravity their players hold when they cut the ball.
Here’s a great example of how Boston used low block to generate good opportunities from deep. Marcus Smart feeds Robert Williams on the perimeter and loops on an Al Horford screen in a cross screen for Jayson Tatum before receiving Williams’ high-low entry pass.
Tatum then wraps from the weak side mid-post onto the strong side wing. A quick exchange of passes sees Smart start to work the low block and draw some extra defensive attention, leaving Tatum open for an easy three-point attempt.
Sure, the shot doesn’t fall, but it’s clear the Celtics’ plan to add post-initiation is potentially a success. We should also appreciate how strong and post-game Smart is good enough to force teams to help, as it will always free up a shooter around the perimeter.
Of course, the above possession wasn’t the only time Boston looked to get their offense through the post.
Here’s another example, this time with Tatum performing a “get” action after hitting Horford with a post-entry pass. A fetch action is quite simple: you pass the ball to a player and then you go to fetch it, usually in the form of a dribble pass; that’s precisely what you see Tatum doing, before wiping a pass to Josh Richardson who has found space on the perimeter.
By executing the offense through the post, you force the defense to react by doubling, digging in, or staying home from your shooters. Each of these reactions creates benefits.
- If the defense doubles down on the post player, a shooter is left open on the perimeter.
- If a defender digs, he exposes himself to being beaten by a stealth cut.
- And if they stay home on the shooters, the post player can get to work backing his man up and looking for an easy bucket.
For those wondering what a ‘dig’ or ‘stunt’ is, it is a momentary lung towards a ball carrier, designed to create panic and force the attacker to pick up the ball, thus limiting the threat.
This possession provides a good example of ‘digging’ or ‘cascading’, but it doesn’t result in a back-cut, although Tatum does get the bucket. On that possession, Devonte’ Graham guards Tatum, but as Horford makes his way into the paint, Graham executes a shallow dig in hopes of disrupting the rhythm of the Celtics big man.
As you can see, the dig is successful, as Horford resumes his dribble. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, Boston has two of the best passers in the NBA, so Horford has no problem redirecting the ball to Tatum.
One of the key takeaways is that while Boston incorporated an additional position-based offense into its game plan, it was only part of the puzzle. Sometimes the ball got stuck in the post as play unfolded, and others were redirected instantly in an effort to create a lag.
For example, in the possession above, the ball only hits the post for a single second, before Robert Williams gives it to Smart for a second side action. Also note how open Smart is when the pass is made. If the recipient of Williams’ pass had been Tatum or Brown, the shot would have been good for the defense that would have managed to shut down. However, whether points were scored on possession is irrelevant, that is the process we are focusing on.
Interestingly, Udoka opted to incorporate an extra inside game against a team known for running zone defense. It’s no secret that the Celtics have often floundered when tasked with breaking up teams entering a zone, and at times it looked like it would happen again against New Orleans.
However, the best way to beat the zone is to penetrate the initial line of defense, either by cutting in the middle or… by placing the ball on the low block. Despite all the talk surrounding Udoka’s poor in-game decisions and propensity to favor odd lineups, his offensive plan for the Celtics’ final game was both logical and necessary to avoid another stagnant streak that could potentially leave the game behind. team fight another tough battle.
While the point guard debate will no doubt continue to rage, seeing Udoka begin to differentiate his playbook is an encouraging sign, which will pay dividends as the team navigates the second half of the season. Because no matter how you slice it, there’s not much you can do when you’re tasked with creating your entire offense from the perimeter, especially when the defense knows your weakness and your game plan.