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Paint job: Celtics hammer Bulls in the key

The Bulls came into the Garden last night as one of the league's best defensive teams, in large part due to its size advantage in the front court, but at the end of the night, it was the Celtics that came up big in the paint.

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On their five game road trip, the Celtics shot a very respectable 37.2% from behind the arc.  That was good for 6th in the league in that ten-day span.  Against the Bulls last night, they hit only 5-for-23.  How did they still manage to put up 105 points against one of the league's best defenses?  They went inside.  Boston outscored Chicago in the paint 54-44 without a go-to post player or winning the rebounding battle (45-50).  Chicago boasts one of the tallest front court lineups in the NBA with Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, and Nikola Mirotic in their rotation, but Boston has succeeded all season going small, flipping the court, and neutralizing length.

Much of it has come from turning defense into offense.  Evan Turner's 360 dunk was the highlight of the game, generated by Boston's #1 turnover-ing D.  Ahem:

But it's not always going to be that easy.  On a night where the team was collectively cold from outside, they had to get easy looks at the rim in the half court and on average, the Celtics are one of the best teams at getting to the hole.  They're 7th in the NBA in shots in the restricted area at 29.1 FGA per game.  By comparison, teams with a dominant center like Dwight Howard in Houston or length in their bigs like Milwaukee average 32.0 and 31.3 respectively, but without that kind of physical edge, the Celtics have had to be a little more crafty with their shot creation.  On Wednesday night, Boston hammered Chicago to the tune of 41 FGA's in the RA.

The dunk was nice, but the end of the night, Turner biggest contribution was leading the team with seven assists.  For much of his Celtics career, he's been dogged with this reputation as a player that dribbles too much.  There might be some truth to that, but he also keeps a lot of plays alive with his handle.

There are times when he reminds me a lot of Rajon Rondo.  Rondo is really good at changing the speed of his dribble and using one hard bounce to freeze the defense and then finding a cutter or roll man in that split second.  It's a necessary skill for a good point guard because there are so many times when you have to accept the double team and then find the open player.  Here's Turner early in the game finding a rolling Jae Crowder:

If Turner picks up his dribble after the pick is set, he can't create that passing lane and hit Crowder with a pinpoint bounce pass.  Turner's ball handling skills are more impressive on this next play:

He goes away from David Lee's pick and puts Jimmy Butler in a spin cycle.  Noah helps baseline and that's just enough space for Lee to catch the bounce pass for the dunk.

While Turner has been great at simplifying the offense to basic pick-and-rolls, Brad Stevens has also implemented a lot of off ball action in order to create lay ups.  In a PnR, what you're basically trying to do is force the defense to commit two players to either the ball handler or the screener.  To combat that, teams will often utilize a third player as a help defender.  This is where Stevens' read-and-react offense comes alive.

Here's a dribble hand off between Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley:

Bradley draws both defenders (Nikola Mirotic and E'Twaun Moore) and hits the popping Kelly Olynyk.  Noah helps on the play, but Lee quickly reacts with a straight line cut to the basket for a layup.  Here's a similar play with Isaiah Thomas and Jared Sullinger working the PnR and Bradley cutting back door:

But here's my favorite play of the night:

A cut won't work here, but Olynyk sees his defender, Mirotic, shading into the paint to dissuade the Turner and Lee pick-and-roll.  Kelly smartly sneaks behind Mirotic, establishes positions, and calls for the ball.

4th quarter shot chart

Nine out of Boston's final 19 FGA's in the fourth quarter were at the rim.  They made six.  While this will go down as just another regular season win in early December, it's important to note that when it matter most, the Celtics not only found ways to score, but more importantly, to score easily.  That was a problem that hurt them in last year's sweep to the Cavs.  They've been defining themselves all season by their defense and last night was no different, but in crunch time, they still needed to put the ball in the basket and they did.

Unfortunately, because of the beautiful randomness of Boston's offense, this info won't necessarily help you in picking Celtics for your next FanDuel matchup, but you can sign up here and join tonight's one-day fantasy league where half the teams win money!

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