Lebron James and his Anthony Davis-led entourage entered Boston with the fearsome feat of being the NBA’s best “road team.” Their challenge was to steamroll a downtrodden Celtics roster who were riding out a three-game losing streak. However, Boston finally had it’s four best players available at the same time, something which had eluded them since their victory over the Bulls. If Los Angeles thought this was going to be a walk in the park, they would have left shell-shocked at the events that unfolded.
The Lakers punched Boston in the mouth early, blocking multiple attempts at the rim from the Celtics. You could be forgiven for fearing the worst, but those fears would soon be alleviated as Gordon Hayward proceeded to take the lid of the bucket and act as a calming agent for his team. Having been met with resistance down low on multiple drives, it was obvious ISO ball wouldn’t be a deciding factor in this game. So, the Celtics adapted and utilized the tools they finally had at their disposal.
While the Lakers have the transcendent talents of Lebron and Davis, the remainder of the roster is composed of journeymen veterans in search of one last ring before Father Time catches up with them. However, Boston has something most teams would kill for right now. As Frank Vogel puts it, “they have four dynamic playmakers on the perimeter with one rolling big, so it’s a big challenge.”
Once it became apparent drives to the rim were not going to cut it, the game plan switched to “pass, pass, pass” and find the right show. This is what they try to implement every night. Last night was just executed to perfection. They ended the game with 31 assists, just one short of matching their collective season high according to Stats Muse. Three players ended the game with 5+ assists, too, which points to just how selflessly they were sharing the rock on offense.
Some were coming as a byproduct of transition play, where the Celtics were forcing the issue, putting pressure on the paint and dumping the ball to the open big when the defense collapsed.
Others were evolved out of the Celtics’ brilliant manipulation of the high pick-and-roll.
As the game continued, the increased success of the Celtics at attacking the basket based off of sharp passes and lightening fast drives began to lead to more opportunities from beyond the break. Several times, an open man was found on the perimeter after a quick burst of pace caused the Lakers to scramble. The bigger the deficit got, the more they collapsed on each drive.
As constructed, this is the Celtics operating at their highest level, forcing defenses to make assumptions and reacting accordingly. The skill-set of these players is tailor-made for this type of offense, and by making the right plays early, it frees up the shooters down the stretch.
Even more encouraging is that the team has found a blueprint on how to attack teams that boast multiple giants like the Sixers, Bucks, and Lakers. Their ability to get out on the break and hit the open man consistently is going to be an enormous weapon as the season enters crunch time with seeding becoming a factor. Driving in deep early to setup the big shots later, the Celtics were playing chess, and along the way, they exposed the Lakers susceptibility to quick bursts of speed on the wings and an inability/unwillingness to close out once the ball was kicked out.
The blueprint has been laid out. They have tasted success using this strategy on multiple occasions this year, but none so satisfactory and convincing as this. When they are healthy, it becomes hard to see who can stop them getting their shots off. All that’s left is to find their consistency in shooting the ball. There is plenty more basketball left to play and that consistency will come soon enough.