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The Read & React: pick-n-roll your poison, Mad Brad, the 2nd unit

Avery Bradley was awesome, and the Celtics were better on the boards in a gutty win on the road.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley stole the show in last night’s 104-98 win in Charlotte with a career game of 31 points (with eight 3s), 11 rebounds, and 4 assists. The Celtics finished a comparatively tough three-games-in-four-nights stretch 2-1 to open up the season. With three days off before a back-to-back with the Bulls and Cavs, there’s some stuff to work on.

Second unit stumbles...again (Lachlan Marr): While the Celtics’ starters were able to storm back with a win, mostly on the backs of Isaiah and Avery, the lackluster play from the second unit remains a major concern. It’s weird because each individual player is more than capable of playing good quality basketball, but it seems the combination of players currently being used in the second unit simply doesn’t work well together. In direct contrast to the Celtics starting five, the bench unit become somehow less than the sum of their parts.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Jaylen Brown remains the most consistent bright spot coming off of the bench, meaning the rookie is already outshining some of his more experienced teammates. Zeller has remained serviceable, and Jerebko has helped to space the floor, but neither seemed to find their footing in this game against Charlotte. Couple that with an underwhelming performance from Amir Johnson, and Boston was really lacking in frontcourt presence. The second unit finally found some pace when Mickey was inserted into the game, but the focus of the #FreeMickey movement was far from outstanding. He only managing 3 points and 2 rebounds, but he did have a fairly solid on-court presence nonetheless.

But more than anyone off the bench, it's Terry Rozier who has been unable to live up to the high expectations that his Summer League play had afforded him, and for the most part he has struggled against NBA level competition. Of course, much of this will likely be remedied by the return of Smart and Olynyk providing improved defense and offense respectively. But issues remain when Stevens can’t confidently rotate in bench players when needed.

But the bench still provides versatility (Bill Sy): With a majority of the starting lineup catching their breath, Stevens experimented with playing time for Jordan Mickey and Gerald Green in the third quarter. With the Celtics getting relentlessly pelted in the paint with drives that eventually led to a 16-free-throw-attempt advantage at the line, Mickey was used to replace Johnson as Boston’s rim protector. On the offensive end, Stevens wanted to rely on Green to generate points.

It didn’t work. After Boston built another double-digit lead, the pair was a net negative.

With the Hornets up 1 at the end of the third, Stevens went with a lineup of Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Jonas Jerebko, and Tyler Zeller. That five-man unit finished the night a +7. Those numbers are due in large part to Bradley’s clutch shooting, but it does highlight the bench’s versatility. Stevens counterpunched to close the game.

With Frank Kaminsky, Marco Belinelli, and Spencer Hawes on the floor, he put speed around the perimeter to keep up with driving ball on defense and drive-and-kick-it down their throat on offense. It was a savvy move by Stevens.

Pick your pick and roll roles (Keith Smith): Last time I wrote about the Celtics’ passing—it is a thing of beauty. Another thing that makes the offense so tough is the Celtics’ ability to run pick-and-roll actions with almost anyone at any given time. Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford? Sure! Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder? Why not? Al Horford and Amir Johnson? Ok. Maybe a bit of a stretch. But it wouldn't shock me!

Another wrinkle is something the Celtics did tonight. They ran multiple 1-3 pick and rolls with Thomas and Crowder against Kemba Walker and Nic Batum. Walker doesn't fight through screens, nor does Batum offer much help, so the Celtics had the advantage. When the Hornets switched things up and added Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the mix, the Celtics proceeded to run it with Thomas and Bradley instead. Or they ran the initial action to get Kidd-Gilchrist switched, then came right back and ran one to involve Batum.

Having guys who can handle it, pass it and shoot it is an enormous advantage. All too often last year, the Celtics offense was reduced to Thomas creating on his own or for his teammates all by himself. With Horford in tow and an improved and healthy Crowder, it gives the Celtics a level of versatility very few teams outside of the Warriors can match. And this is before you add Kelly Olynyk and his diverse skill set to the mix! Brad Stevens is going to have fun with this all year long.

MAD BRAD: Caption this.

  • Brad Stevens gets only his second technical of his Celtics coaching career
  • Brad Stevens heard the score of Game 4 of the World Series
  • Brad Stevens gets separated from his cub scout troop

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