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3 in the Key: Boston creatively scored their way to victory over Brooklyn

How the Boston Celtics used creative lineups to effectively score and defend the Brooklyn Nets

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The fans at TD Garden were partying on Wednesday night, as the Boston Celtics crumpled the Brooklyn Nets, 121-105. With Brooklyn's star center Brook Lopez inactive with a foot injury, Boston was able to exploit them in a number of ways, but some chinks in the armor also showed.

Here are three takeaways from the Celtics' season opener in this year's first edition of 3 in the Key.

Boston's shot distribution was encouraging

Last season, 31.2 percent of Boston's shots came from mid-range, which was expected to drop significantly in 2014. In game one, it certainly did.

Only 19.3 percent of the Celtics' attempts came from mid-range. From there, they still lit it up, with a 10-of-17 shooting performance, despite it being a usually inefficient zone.

Celtics Shot Chart

More impressively, Boston managed to get in the paint and the restricted area for a monstrous 55.7 percent of their field goals, where they shot 63.2 percent and drew a chunk of fouls.

Brad Stevens credits excellent spacing and decision-making for their ability to get to the basket.

"Only one-fourth of our shots were threes, which means that they were guarding the three-point line and we were driving and cutting," Stevens said of his team's performance. "That's good; that's part of reading and reacting to those things."

One of Stevens' key plans to the season -- "pace and space" -- was executed to perfection against Brooklyn. Just 25 percent of Boston's shots came from three, but most of their offense was derived from the area.

The Celtics facilitated everything from behind the arc, whether it was a perimeter assist from Jared Sullinger, a Rajon Rondo drive and dish, a backdoor cut from Avery Bradley, or a drive from the wing by Jeff Green.

Boston's use of two floor-spacing bigs with three-point range effectively neutralized the usefulness of Mason Plumlee. The summertime celebrity who rose to prominence with his surprise Team USA stint was limited to just over 11 minutes of court time as he struggled with his communication and positioning -- no doubt due to a lack a familiarity with being responsible for such a large amount of space. Without Plumlee's presence in the paint, Brooklyn had no rim protection to speak of.

The defense against Joe Johnson was a mixed bag

Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Johnson gets a lot of hate around NBA circles, not for his play, but for his $23 million contract. But if you forget about his salary and focus on his performance, you'll see a pure scorer who flashes superstar-level abilities.

The Celtics had their hands full with Johnson on Wednesday, as he scored 19 points on 7-for-19. Though he was inefficient, the way in which he was defended illustrates both Boston's strengths and weaknesses as a defensive unit.

In particular, Jeff Green and Evan Turner struggled immensely containing the seven-time All-Star.


In the first three clips above, Johnson tosses Turner around like a rag doll. Turner was just not aggressive enough, by not absorbing the body blows with his own force, instead turning his body and showing him the lane. In the second two clips, Green was no better, as he allowed for wide-open looks.

"Oh, because the second half wasn't very positive," Stevens joked, humorously acknowledging the defensive slippage in the second half, when asked about what went right during the first portion of the game. "Our intensity was really good, even when we were scrambling and out of sorts. We were doing it hard. We were flying all over the place. We were active to the biggest threats. They missed some open threes, but I thought that we really played in the first half defensively."

Stevens was also quick to point out the difficulty in maintaining that type of intensity and focus after building up a 26-point lead.

Fortunately, Stevens has fire-starter Marcus Smart on layaway for such occasions. The combination of Stevens astute timing of his substitutions and Smart's sense of the moment helped to stem the tide of the third quarter malaise that had set in after a breakneck first half.


The two clips above show Smart and Bradley, both of whom displayed incredible technique in stopping Johnson. Bradley's ability to close out, then keep Johnson in front on the drive is top-of-the-line defense. And Smart's sensational low post defense is an example that both Turner and Green could learn from.

"We just picked it up on the defensive end. Avery Bradley was phenomenal. Rondo too," Smart said of the team's second quarter defensive performance, which included a 1-for-5 stat-line from Iso-Joe.

As the season progresses, one hopes that the fundamental technique used by Smart and Bradley in their man-to-man defense will be matched by the other swing men on this squad.

There was certainly no lack of effort or intensity among the team as a whole, in any case.

Brad Stevens utilized seamless, creative lineups

Boston's starting lineup of Rondo-Bradley-Green-Sullinger-Olynyk played a grand total of 14 minutes together all of last season; tonight they nearly matched that mark with 12 minutes.

And they murdered Brooklyn.

The starting five scored 34 points on 12-of-24 shooting and a ridiculous 68.8 eFG percentage. With a 142.4 offensive rating, coach Brad Stevens can't even be angry about their 121.4 defensive rating.

In total, Stevens employed 20 different lineups on Wednesday, but only 11 played at least two minutes together, and only six over three. Stevens was substituting players, seemingly always keeping fresh bodies on the floor.

The one element of consistency in those top lineup combos, after the starters, was Jeff Green at the four and Marcus Smart...well, pretty much everywhere else.

"One of the best parts about the game for us was when we went to the bench things just kept going," Stevens explained after the game. "The bench made such a great contribution and Rondo fit in seamlessly."

Rondo was not only a seamless fit, but also a savage in his assertiveness. All the quick-twitch speed and penetration was evident from the outset, as was his uncanny knack for finding players quality shots.

But his greatest contribution may have come early in the second half as Deron Williams attempted to do superstar things, stringing together a series of plays that gave the Nets life. Rondo rose to the challenge immediately and buried those hopes, capping off his callous assault with a step-back three to seal the deal and send the fans home happy.

With a grueling upcoming schedule, the Boston Celtics will have their hands full maintaining their success, but if their opening night performance is any indication of their future, then they should be in good shape.

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