With the reality of the rebuild settling in, you get a little nostalgic for those championship days. You see Kevin Garnett in a Nets jersey and you're reminded of those teams that he anchored all those years ago and ironically and maybe fittingly, it was against KG, the player that epitomized that era, that these new Celtics finally showed some grit and balls.
Brooklyn isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut, but the Nets did drop 109 points in the Garden less than two weeks ago and the Celtics have allowed 100+ in all seven losses in the post-Rondo era. Maybe it was Jae Crowder's spark off the bench, maybe it was the physical practice on Tuesday, or maybe it was Brad Stevens shortening his rotation to 10 players. Regardless, the team played with heart and hustle on the defensive end. Check out the clip from Kevin's piece on Monday's loss to the Hornets where Sullinger hangs Crowder out to dry on a late game drive and compare it to these GIFs of Boston's rotations from last night. It's night and day.
Schematically, Boston has been more aggressive on pick-and-rolls, ICEing everything to the sideline and overloading the strong side of the ball. Where the improvement showed last night was in their help defense with either the weak side big or small pulling in and chipping on the rolling screener and recovering on the rotation.
It's not exactly Stan Van Gundy's build a f***ing wall defense, but a character defensive win like this is what they needed to start with on this three-game roadie before coming home to face New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago and then heading out west for six-games-in-ten-nights.
If defense isn't your fancy, Boston was great on offense, too. Avery Bradley and Tyler Zeller were the lone offensive standouts last night with 21 and 18 points respectively, but it was the evenness of the box score that was the true star. Don't let the lowly 89 point total fool you; the other eight players in the 10-man rotation saw 5+ shots in Steven's read-and-react offense and the ball moved better last night than it has all season. The following clips are a series of back cuts, proof positive that the ball and player movement had the older, slower Nets frozen and confused:
I've had my reservations about Stevens' offense. For all its virtues about ball movement and the beauty of basketball, it doesn't necessarily cater to making young players stars and can create this false sense that a player is in a slump (i.e. Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, et. al.). Were Zeller and Bradley the best offensive players on the floor last night? While the numbers don't lie, it was the team's collective aggressiveness on and off the ball that lead to 22 assists on 35 made field goals.