Welcome to another segment of Celtics Summer Film School, a series where we’re going to look at specific, usually non-highlight, plays to either reminisce on the good times, learn something new, or get excited for next season. In this clip, we’re going to do all of the above.
Last time on Summer Film School, I took a look at how Gordon Hayward’s presence really shifted the dynamics of the offense. By adding another multi-dimensional wing to a lineup featuring . . . many multi-dimensional wings. What’s one more, right? It’s actually a big deal. Having a player with Hayward’s court presence and passing ability will really help out a team that struggled to score last season.
Without taking into account Hayward’s mental edge on the defensive end, just having a player with his build (6’8, 225 lbs.) will add to what was already the NBA’s best defense last season (with a league-leading defensive rating of 103.9). That was without Hayward, an intelligent defensive player and one less guy to cover up for Kyrie Irving who, although putting in increased effort last season, isn’t exactly a lock down defender.
In the following clip from the first preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers last season, notice how Boston’s length bothers the 76ers.
First things first, notice who isn’t shooting a 3-point here.
Now that we got that clip out of the way, when facing the lineup that Philly was trotting out, you absolutely want Amir Johnson, notable non-coward, shooting that shot. The action leading up to that shot is really what intrigues me. Boston switched virtually everything on this possession, and it didn’t burn them once. Boston continued to do this even as LeBron James burned them in the ECF, but that hurt even more with the lack of personnel. With a starting lineup that included Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes, the Cavaliers could target mismatches. That won’t be so easy with Boston’s projected starting five next year.
It may seem undisciplined for the Celtics to jump for so many fakes, but they weren’t left on an island when they did bite. I’d argue that biting actually made the defense even more intimidated with their length. By switching and showing the threat of shot blocking on every ounce of an opportunity, Boston forced the ball to swing to the player that they wanted to shoot more than any other 76er.
When J.J. Redick came off of the curl action, he found himself locked into a death trap of versatile wings with a combined wingspan that’s triple his height. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward all pressured the ball at virtually the same time. This leads to a switch for Irving off of Bayless and onto Redick who was basically taken out of the play. While Irving can guard Jerryd Bayless, the switch after the pick was seamless and allowed Boston’s better defenders to handle the primary action.
The result ended up with Boston’s two best defenders, Brown and Al Horford, guarding the primary ball action with the shot clock winding down.
Ben Simmons did not shoot a 3 on this possession.
Instead, Boston forced the ball into Amir Johnson’s hands with 8 seconds left on the clock where Brown showed off one of his greatest and most underrated skills: closeouts. Brown fully uses his vertical and leaping ability to intimidate shooters. It’s quite effective, and Brown is a master at using his full length to disrupt shooters. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of his game.
On the other end, Boston’s versatility translates back by forcing Philly to fall for their pump fakes with excellent ball movement made possible by Al Horford, whose versatility among other things makes him worth every penny of his contract. Horford driving the ball up the floor in itself is something only a handful of centers can do. This allows the other four threats in the lineup to work on getting open in transition, something that those four players in particular are exceptional at doing.
The Celtics actually opened up two great looks on that possession. After the pass to Irving on the wing, Philly’s not-so-versatile lineup left a hole in the floor that Irving wisely attacked, drawing two defenders. Horford easily could have taken, and made, the wide open 3-pointer. Instead, with plenty of time on the shot clock, he wisely worked the ball to Tatum while the 76ers’ defense scrambled to recover.
They did not recover.
After the smooth pump fake, Tatum got the easy side step for the wide-open jumper. This was almost a year ago, so he’s progressed since then. I’d like to see more of him side-stepping for 3 or just heading to the rim, but maybe that’s just the Daryl Morey in me talking. Objectively, scoring points is good and stopping the other team from scoring is also good.
Too long; didn’t read: Boston’s going to be extremely good on both ends of the floor next season.
What play will we cover next? Find out on the next exciting episode of Summer . . . Film . . . School!