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The little things: the Celtics have found many ways to make winning plays

Tiny things from great players make a big difference.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics fans are extremely familiar with the word “little.” Ever since the trade deadline in 2015, we’ve heard that word repeated ad nauseam to describe the fan favorite, Isaiah Thomas. Our lone All Star’s game was far from little though. He was all about the big plays in the big moments, and that took us to new heights each season. However, as big as Thomas’ play was, those big moments wouldn’t have happened without the smaller contributions of lesser players. That’s how teams work, and from a team culture standpoint, that’s a big part of this nebulous idea that we dub, “Celtic basketball.”

Our “Little Guy” isn’t here anymore, but we have plenty of players that have jumped in to do the ever-important little things that constitute winning basketball. Guys like Terry Rozier, Al Horford, and more have been instrumental to team success and flow because of how they pay attention to minor details that have big effects. I want to highlight a few of my favorite little things that I’ve noticed since the season started.

Terry Rozier’s chipping

Al Horford and Aron Baynes have been excellent with their paint defense so far this season. Horford, in particular, has been more than solid on the defensive end, especially because of his versatility. However, some defensive stops have been a result of some unlikely help from Terry Rozier. Not in the “try to back down Rozier in the paint and that’s an automatic stop” kind of way, but in a different way.

Often, when opponents are driving into the paint or backing down in the post, Rozier will dig in and use his quick hands to his advantage. These opportunities don’t always result in steals, but they do on occasion rattle the opponent, leading to fumbled dribbles or passes that end up in turnovers. Rozier has been excellent so far this season, especially in light of Marcus Smart’s ankle injuries.

Here’s an example of Rozier’s quick hands. After the pick-and-roll between Dwyane Wade and Kevin Love, Rozier quickly swipes down on Love as he rolls to the basket. The ball goes off of Love’s leg, and the Celtics gain possession. He does this many times a game, and these swipe attempts have become increasingly successful. This little part of his game has aided the defense in big ways, especially when stops have been needed.

Kyrie Irving: Nice Guy

He’s just such a nice guy. I’m not sure if this really adds to team success (it probably doesn’t), but in an age where we glorify the roughness and intensity of guys like Kevin Garnett (I’m guilty of this as well), it’s refreshing to see a player who’s genuinely concerned with the well-being of all players in his vicinity, regardless of the jersey they wear. If you haven’t noticed this, whenever a player takes a tough spill or hard fall, Kyrie Irving will be the first guy to offer a hand to help them up.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

This doesn’t mean that Irving isn’t a stone-cold killer on the court; in fact, his resume of clutch shots prove the opposite. He can help you up off the floor and then put you down with a lethal crossover within minutes. It’s all part of the polarizing personality of our best player. It’s fascinating, and it’s something he’s been doing his whole career. I have to say, though, that I hope he spends more time this season dropping ankles with his dribble package than anything else.

One more thing I’ve noticed about Irving that he has been extremely willing to put in some of the dirty work for the 50-50 balls. He’s diving on the floor, going for offensive rebounds, and more. Maybe he’s trying to endear himself to the Boston crowd, but you’d rather that than him not caring. It’ll be interesting to monitor his activity there as the season progresses.

Marcus Smart Boxing Out

Up until signing Aron Baynes, Marcus Smart was almost unquestionably our best rebounder from a fundamental perspective. Even though other players had better rebounding numbers, I think Smart was the best in this area because of how he approaches rebounds and when he grabs them. When the game is on the line, it seems that Smart is always in the mix for a tough board. Why is that? He knows how to channel his rebounding powers.

For the numbers crowd, I understand why you wouldn’t agree with this. In the end, this is just my opinion. One thing that you can’t argue is that Smart has very solid rebounding mechanics. He boxes out players much bigger than him, and he knows how to sell over-the-back fouls really well if an opponents gets a little jumpy. Overall, he just has great feel for the game in this regard.

Jaylen Brown’s Mentality

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Brown is one of the most thoughtful and intellectual young players we’ve had on the team in recent years, and his insight makes him an interesting interview. On the court, though, he completely changes. Brown literally is trying to kill someone out there every night now, and that has played a big role in his scoring outburst to start the season. I’m all the way here for Brown continuing to put up his “I want to rip your head off” face when he steps on the hardwood.

Jaylen Brown, the intellectual, plays chess and discusses philosophy for fun. Jaylen Brown, the psycho, pulls out reverse dunks mid-game because he wants to demoralize opponents and strike fear into the very core of their existence. It’s glorious.

This team is full of guys who contribute to the team with the tiniest of details. After all, attention to details is what wins championships. After losing Gordon Hayward for a good chunk of this season, if not all of it, this team might not be ready to contend right out of the gate. However, if they continue these small habits, when the team is ready, they’ll be well-equipped to face the massive challenges that will be stacked up on the road to Banner 18.

What kind of “little things” have you noticed this season?

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