Thursday night’s victory for the Boston Celtics was about as perfect as you could script it. The Celtics took the lead early and always had control of the game. Coach Brad Stevens even got to create his own version of “load management,” sitting the starters most of the fourth quarter. The team maintained a constant double-digit lead built by defense and solid shot selection. The team had the mentality of attacking the basket to create high percentages shots. It may be obvious and always brought up with this Celtics team, but it was on perfect display in Charlotte.
It was not just one player who was cutting or driving to the basket continuously. Instead, it was a full team effort with players passing up mid-range jumpers to finish around the basket either creating contact or making an easy lay-up.
This shows every made basket through the first three quarters. It was all about the three-pointer and layups, the exact formula to succeed in this new NBA: stretch out defenses around the three-point line, and then drive and slash to the rim for an easy layup. Of those thirty-two made baskets, six of them were not a layup around the bucket or three-pointer. That is a solid ratio for any night.
One player who has really adopted this mentality and style of play is Gordon Hayward. He is starting to look like himself again which has brought about some big games for the Celtics this season. Hayward has made a strong commitment to drive to the basket and get up like he used to in Utah. He finished the night with 20 points on 16 shots but more importantly, went 8-11 from two-point range. This is where he is getting the majority of points this season.
This was a signature play from the first quarter with Hayward on the finish. It was not only the gorgeous assist by Marcus Smart, but it was the high screen action from Daniel Theis that opened up Hayward to dart to the rim for an easy jam. Hayward’s off-ball cutting action has been critical for this team with so many willing passers in the lineup. It starts with an unselfish attitude and ends with a basket by the off-ball player finding open holes in the defense.
Another Celtic who has been making a new home around the basket is Jaylen Brown. It was a great sight to see him back on the court picking up where he left off after missing a few games with an illness that became a bit more serious than expected. Thankfully, he was able to rejoin the team and put up 12 points of his own in this win. Four of his five made field goals were layups around the rim. He too has embraced creating a shot at the basket rather than settling for a contested mid-range jumper.
Both of these clips highlight Brown’s athleticism finishing around the rim. He first gets Bismack Biyombo back-peddling and is easily able to dribble by him for the easy put in. Then, we see great ball movement all the way around for Jaylen to attack from the left side and finish the fast break. Again, these may be simple basketball plays, but it is not always a given that players will commit to attacking the basket. Jaylen Brown has excelled at this his whole career with his athletic ability to throw one down at any given time.
The Celtics offense was humming in this one against the Hornets. They made stops on defense which put their offense in another gear, but the baskets on driving layups really continued to be a staple in this offense. It all relies on unselfish play and basketball IQ to take advantage of the opposing team’s defense. With that, great offense follows. Everyone knows, Kemba Walker can take his guy off the dribble, and everyone knows Jayson Tatum has a solid pull-up jumper that he loves to use, but if the Celtics combine those, with everyone else attacking the basket getting easier shots, the offense has a much easier time getting into rhythm.