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Boston Celtics newfound interior presence paid dividends against Thunder

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Boston Celtics added emphasis on scoring in paint has raised their offense to another level.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Even with the Celtics rolling since late November, there was still an underlying theme that many fans talked about during our infrequent offensive lulls. Despite the teams ability to score with the best of them when needed, they seldom finished in the paint. With an offense generated to create plenty of open threes and a closer like Kyrie Irving who could score whenever, the inability to get buckets at the rim really didn’t seem to hurt them, but the danger with relying on the three-ball is the heavy variance. One night can be record-breaking night and the next could be could crippling bricks even with the quality of the looks being the same.

Against the Thunder, the Celtics were able to amass 134 points, and of those, 56 of them were in the paint. For reference, the Milwaukee Bucks who are ranked 2nd in both rim attempt frequency and percentage via Cleaning the Glass average 54 points in the paint per game. Overall, in the past three games the Celtics have really made an effort to finish in the paint and have averaged a whopping 58 paint points per game in that stretch.

What’s changed? Well, nothing really outside of the team reading each other better. This wasn’t a set play or anything. It was Irving reading the help and giving Smart a cutter to bail him out:

This play was a pick and pop between Tatum and Horford. When Horford gets the ball, all eyes go to him and Irving immediately takes off and is able to score a tough finish at the rim:

Some do come from set plays. Rozier gives Brown an off-ball screen on the weak side meant to get him a mismatch against Schroder in the paint:

Finally, we have HORNS action where, because of the spacing, Grant ends getting caught in no man’s land stuck between the shooter (Morris) and the roller (Horford), because Adams played up on the screen he was a step behind Horford and Smart was able to find him with a beautiful feed:

Since the Celtics inserted Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris in the starting lineup, they have ranked 4th in assists per game. It seems that they’re now progressing from making the right plays within a set to reading off one another to create easy baskets. Jaylen Brown’s response was measured when asked about how well the team has been growing together, “we’re learning, we’re growing, we still have a long way to go. We have 30 or 40 games left in the season, let’s keep getting better each night.”

The explosion in paint points is still too early to call a trend, but the natural progression the team seems to be heading towards as they learn each other is real and there’s no saying how much better their offense could be looking by April if everyone can stay healthy.