After a wire-to-wire blowout of the Knicks, Kyrie Irving doubled down on his recent comments about the Celtics not having fun on the court and playing for themselves as individuals rather than the betterment of the team:
“Everybody feels like they have an ego in this, and all in all, we just want the best for one another. I think at this point, we’re just playing with a sense of effort where now it’s not so much about who’s playing, who has more talent. Now it’s like okay, who is going to give that effort every single time down, and who’s going to demand it from one another and hold each other accountable. And you go from there, you start building some great championship patterns.”
Passing doesn’t necessarily translate to unselfishness on the basketball court, but it can be a good indicator of how much teams are trusting one another and trying to collectively play as a unit. During this four-game winning streak that includes big road wins in New Orleans and Minnesota, the Celtics rank 5th in passes made at 326.3 passes per game, 3rd in assists at 29.0, and 1st in potential assists at 53.3.
Throughout his tenure in Boston, Brad Stevens has stressed making the right basketball play. After a brutal November that included an embarrassing loss to these same Knicks, he shuffled and balanced the lineups and so far, it’s working. On Thursday night against New York, they finished with a season-high 32 assists that’s capped off a six-game stretch where they’re the league’s best offense with a 118.5 OffRtg.
In an attempt to stifle Boston’s talented roster, head coach David Fizdale ran a zone defense against the Celtics right off the tip. They answered with some crisp passing that ended with a Marcus Morris baseline jumper:
Later, similar ball movement gets Jayson Tatum an open look at a 3. It’s just simple basketball where the ball moves quicker off the pass and everybody is making the right read. Marcus Smart could have shot at the top of the arc, but he moves it quickly to the better shooter in Tatum.
Before the game, I had written about how Gordon Hayward playing with the second unit--specifically Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier--could help reignite their games. Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about. Rozier initiates the offense, but the play ultimately becomes a PnR between Hayward and Daniel Theis. Rozier sets a solid screen to put the Knicks’ defense in immediate peril and Hayward hits the rolling Theis for the dunk.
Later in the second quarter, it’s a similar action between the trio, but instead of rolling, Theis stops short and hits Rozier’s defender with a down pick. He recognizes that 1) Noah Vonleh is sinking back in the paint to protect against another alley oop and 2) Allonzo Trier is trailing under picks to stick to Rozier. Theis hits Rozier’s defender with a screen and Rozier hits the open 3.
More often, we’re starting to see these types of fluid and instinctive offense sets from the Celtics where players just know where their teammates are going to be. Shots have started to fall and frustration has started to dissipate. Basketball is fun again.