Early during training camp, a lot of the players remarked about how much of a basketball junkie their head coach. They were overwhelmed with how many plays he had in his head and impressed that he could draw something up for every situation. Frankly speaking, there were times early in the season that I didn't see it. I could tell that the players trusted him and played hard for him, but I didn't see the genius. I didn't see the X's and O's guy that could rival Doc's ATO brilliance. I honestly thought that he was using the first 40 games to see what kind of hand he was dealt. Armed with just a few pick-and-roll sets and ISO situations, it seemed liked he was trying to get a better sense of his players' capabilities and the NBA game.
But as the season progressed, we got a few looks. There were glimpses in the preseason. There was the Miracle in Miami. However, none of it really seemed to matter. Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee thrived in Stevens' stripped down system and were quickly traded off like fruit ripening on the vine. They were never going to be in the long term plans of the Celtics anyway. Really, the question looming over the team was how Rajon Rondo would be incorporated into the offense when he returned? The two had developed a chemistry off the court, but there were uncertainties in how their philosophies would gel on the parquet. Rondo was used to playing with Hall of Famers and Stevens was charged to mold a team from scratch. But as far apart as they may seem personality-wise at times, the two have been a pretty good fit. This is Brad Stevens after today's practice on his point guard:
"He's one of the most unique passers around. With the team we have right now and with the guys we have on the court right now, there's probably less spreads and some more general action that fits Rondo maybe better than Jordan, but Jordan was great at playing off the spreads."
After surviving yet another trade deadline and BirthdayGate, so far, so good. It's clear that Rondo worked on his jumper with assistant coach Ron Adams when his mobility was limited during rehab and the results have been positive. He's finally getting his legs back and that's helped him with his explosiveness off the dribble. When you watch him play of late, he seems to be able to slow down and accelerate like pre-injury Rondo and he's getting to those impossible passing angles more often. In the last four games, he's averaged over a double-double and that's had a positive effect on two of the more tenured Celtics. Bass has been steady at 14.5 points and Green has been spectacular at 21.5 points per game (with a 29 point effort in Sacramento when Rondo took a day off).
It's a small sample size and a majority of those games came against lottery teams, but all of them stepped up against the league's best Pacers on Saturday night and you could really see how the three are coming together for the final stretch run. I've highlighted a couple plays from Saturday:
Much of their three-man game starts with action between Bass and Green. Here, Green seems ready to free up Rondo with a pick but instead uses a Bass brush screen (and another from Humphries) to run the baseline and look for a Rondo pass in the corner. Simultaneously, Bass sets a pick-and-pop screen for Rondo and camps out at his comfortable mid-range spot at the free throw line. Rondo has three options: 1) the layup, 2) Green's 3, or 3) Bass' jumper.
It seems like another simple pick-and-pop between Bass and Rondo, but check out the action on the strong side of the court. After Rondo blows by Watson, Humphries sets a back screen on Paul George and clears a lane for Green to crash the paint. It gives Rondo the options to 1) take it to the rack, 2) find the cutting Green, 3) kick out to Hump or Bass, or 4) swing it out to Bayless for the 3 as the defense collapses.
There are few point guards in the league capable of making all four of the those passes. Rondo is one of them.
Green and Bass fake the double screen but when George jumps it, Green cuts in for the easy lay up.
They set up the double screen again. This time, it's above the free throw line extended. Rondo uses them both, but Watson does a good job fighting over the picks. However, the action is over. Bass sets a second pick for Green to flash out above the free throw line and cut into the paint. With the space evacuated, Bass hits the Dirk from the top of the key.
Finally, another play that puts Rondo in a decision-making position. After Bass sets a screen for Green to create space between him and George, he sets a pick-and-pop for Rondo. Indiana does such a good job recovering, but look at where Rondo is after the Bass screen: he's got a live dribble at the free throw line with Green coming off a second pick on the strong side. He's got the opportunity to 1) break down the D with his dribble, 2) find Green for a three pointer, or 3) hit Bass in open space.