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Gigi Datome and the Celtics' read-and-react offense

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Before last night's game, Tyler Zeller asked Gigi Datome what he did in his free time. Datome replied, "read books." On the floor however, Datome and the Celtics are learning to read defenses and now they're squarely in a playoff hunt after a five-game winning streak.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

"Nice basketball."  That's how Datome described last night's throttling of Philadelphia and Boston's team play over their current five-game winning streak.  "Nice" and "fun."  Yes, last night's blowout win was against the hapless 76ers, but even in such a lopsided game, you can see what Datome's talking about.

Datome played 255 minutes in Detroit over a season and a half, racking up more DNP's than made shots, but before signing with the Pistons, Datome was an accomplished player abroad.  He was an MVP in Italy and did stuff like this.  He never found a niche with SVG or Mo Cheeks, but in his brief stay in Boston, he's proven that he can play in this league, and more importantly, for this team.

The Celtics are playing beautiful team basketball and Datome's recent surge is a testament to how quickly a player can be assimilated into Boston's system.  The bottom line is that if you can play, you'll play.  A few days ago, Brad Stevens talked about "playing the right way" and said:

"To me that approach is tried and true. You do your role as well as you possibly can, and become a superstar in that role," said Stevens. "You give it everything you've got for the good of the team, then good things usually happen. Certainly it's tough to lose, and losing can have a snowball effect. But our biggest thing is to continue to play well."

Stevens emphasizes the word "role," but he doesn't mean it in the traditional Doc Rivers' sense where Rajon Rondo played the point guard role and Ray Allen played the shooting guard role.  At least, I don't think so, because the way the Celtics are playing right now, there doesn't seem to be any roles.  Everybody touches the ball and everybody makes decisions on the fly.  It's the positionless basketball that Stevens has been preaching since day one of  training camp and we're seeing the benefits of the read-and-react system at work.  Stevens has been getting a lot of credit lately, but the simple truth is that he's allowing his players to freelance on the floor and putting them in position to utilize their own skill sets and natural instincts to make decisions.

This is is one of Boston's most popular half court sets: a big dribbles hard toward the sideline with a wing above the break and beyond the arc and another wing flashing up from the corner.  It's an unconventional trigger with your center handling the ball so far away from the basket, but defensively, it pulls the opposing team's shot blocker away from the rim and creates lanes to the rim.

zeller option

This is why Brad Stevens puts such importance on skilled big men that can shoot and put the ball on the floor because adding one element to one player's game has exponential value to the team's offense.  Here, Tyler Zeller fakes the dribble hand off to Avery Bradley.  Bradley cuts hard and clears his man to the opposite corner.  Zeller's next option is another dribble hand off to Evan Turner, but because Nerlens Noel gambles on the tip steal, Zeller reads the play and drives straight to the rim for an easy lay up instead.  He used a similar move on Saturday to help seal the win against the Pacers.

crowder option

Later in the quarter, Brandon Bass served as the big trigger.  With the more athletic Thomas Robinson back pedaling and protecting against a cut, Kelly Olynyk reads the defense and decides to down screen for Jae Crowder.  Olynyk's pick is very effective against Crowder's defender, Robert Covington, but to finish him off, Bass sets another after his dribble hand off.  Crowder then has plenty of room to hit the mid range jumper.

avery option 2

Remember Zeller's drive in the first quarter?  Noel doesn't gamble this time and stays home against TZ.  Marcus Smart makes the hard cut into the paint.  The dribble hand off screen gives Bradley enough space for a single rhythm dribble and hop and AB hits the wide open three.

Bradley was on fire last night (4-for-7 from downton) and it's all net, but notice the subtle action that happens under the rim: Smart sets a cross screen for Bass, Bass sees that Avery is shooting and now has a chance for an offensive rebound against a smaller defender.  Had Avery not pulled up, Bass could have set a back screen for AB to drive right with Zeller clearing out Noel.

jerebko option

And now, let's come full circle because a recap of last night's action wouldn't be complete without a Gigi Datome highlight.  Jonas Jerebko dribbles to the sideline and Bradley makes the crisscross cut.  It's another dribble hand off for Datome, but for some reason, Covington (Datome's defender) gambles on the steal.  Datome reads this and lets him fly by.  He receives the pass from Jerebko, pump fakes and freezes Jerami Grant, pass fakes and freezes Covington, and has a clear path for a 2-on-1 with Zeller.  Henry Sims didn't have a chance.