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Celtics dish out season’s best 37 assists vs. Nets

Boston’s balanced attack was the NBA’s second best offense in December.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics have dished out at least 30 assists in each of their last four games, including a season-leading 37 (on 47 made field goals) against the Nets last night. Even when Brooklyn occasionally threw out a zone defense, Boston was able to cut them up with off ball movement and crisp passing. The Celtics’ offensive attack wasn’t centered around a single player either.

Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart all had at least four assists with Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier dishing out four apiece, too. That distribution was represented in the scoring as well; eight players finished in double digits in points. After the game, Smart said:

Boston’s offense may seem like an intricate maze of screens, misdirection, and cuts, but ultimately, it’s all about simple basketball mechanics, reading how an opposing team defends an action, and then reacting with the appropriate counter. It's the perfect marriage between Boston's versatile roster and an offensive system built on randomness and flexibility. As Brad Stevens said after the game, “if we continue to prioritize playing together, we should get better.” Here are a few highlights from the first half to illustrate that point:

The trigger man here is Morris, but everything is happening on the opposite side of the floor. Kyrie sets a back screen for Tatum to get the ball in the restricted area, but Brooklyn actually plays pretty good defense recovering on the pick. The second option is Irving curling off a Horford pin down and he hits his spot at the free throw line and the easy mid-range jumper.

Later, it’s Horford as the ball handler above the break, but it’s Tatum with the off ball read. He can either use the Rozier screen and receive the ball on a dribble hand off from Horford, but if his defender overplays the ball side, he can back cut right to the rim.

Finally, here’s a play from the 3rd. It’s supposed to start out with a simple DHO between Irving and Horford, but Al reads the overplay from Spencer Dinwiddie and fakes the pass. Kyrie sees it too and instead cuts straight towards the rim. Horford then opts to hand off the ball to Hayward. Gordon makes a tight turn around Horford and with Irving clearing out traffic in the paint, it’s an easy lane for an and-1 for Hayward.

The Celtics made it look easy against a Nets team that came in winners of nine of their last twelve games, but Boston’s big win prompted Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson to say, “I’m envious what they’ve built here.” On offense, the team is finally firing on all cylinders and with Danny Ainge stating last week that he doesn’t see any potential trades on the horizon, this talented roster could enter the post-season as not just one of the best defensive teams in the league, but one of the more potent offenses, too.

The biggest assist of the night however may have come on a dead ball in Gino Time from Al Horford:

The Celtics return to the parquet on Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers.

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