Miami is having a great year so far, currently third in the East and half a game in front of the Celtics. They are doing so with a roster devoid of star power outside of Jimmy Butler. But in a potential banana skin game, the Celtics came away from Miami victorious.
Entering the second game of a back-to-back, Miami could be forgiven if they looked gassed, but they didn’t. Instead they showed determination and high activity levels to last the distance against the most fluid Celtics team any of us have seen in January. There was no slow start in this one, as the Celtics came out of the gate hot, setting the tone for their shooting for the game.
While their scorers deserve their plaudits and Marcus Smart deserves recognition for his exceptional play down the stretch, it was their movement off-ball that enabled all that stuff to happen. They were sharp and decisive throughout. At times this year, the Celtics have been guilty of stagnating as games wore on, opting to allow ISO’s or pick-and-roll play to dictate when they should make their cuts. That stagnation has lead to multiple poor offensive outings along with some rough losses to lesser teams.
Not the case in Miami though. Instead, the whole roster displayed intelligence off the ball, timing their cuts, setting pin downs and curling off screens to perfection. Movement like this is what the offense is predicated on: having athletic players who can zip around the court. We just haven't seen enough of it recently. Seeing it happen against a team so close to them in the standings made it all the more enjoyable. Furthermore, dropping 109 points on a team ranked 5th in defense was encouraging to say the least.
Hayward scored ten field goals in this game. Of those ten, six were assisted on and three came courtesy of screens or slip screens.
Then there was Jaylen Brown who also had himself a night, scoring 25 points on 62.5 percent shooting, along with 5 assists and three rebounds (we will forget the five turnovers). He also scored ten from the field with eight coming off assists and five being the product of off-ball cuts or curls, something that Brown has improved on throughout the course of the year.
Grant Williams was impressively active as an off-ball threat in this one too, showing great potential as a slip-screen threat along with an ability to seal his man when a teammate is driving the lane. He showed great composure to continue running plays for his teammates as the game wore on along with grabbing seven rebounds and dropping five points on the night.
There were good/great moments from all eight of Boston’s players who participated in this game, each of them setting up plays for others by manipulating the defense with their movement.
There were times when Miami setup in a zone in order to deter the Celtics from driving. Instead, it allowed baseline cuts and pins down on the low block. When you are working at this level off ball, defenses need to communicate at a high level. One slip and there is an open man in a pocket. Miami learned that lesson the hard way, which is encouraging for Boston because too many times this year they have been unable to react to what the defense has given them.
It’s clear what type of offensive scheme this team was built for. Now we are starting to see it come to fruition. With the shooting and slashing ability on this team when defenders are sealed or switched into an unfavorable match ups, there are not many teams better suited to play in this style.
The last team to perform like this off-ball was the Warriors throughout their dynasty. They laid the blueprint for the current Celtics foundation. Now it’s the Celtics job to keep that activity level up on a nightly basis if they want to keep drawing those comparisons.