The highlight-reels for the Boston Celtics can be packaged in many different ways. From Jayson Tatum’s myriad of offensive moves or Jaylen Brown’s ferocious dunks or Kemba Walker’s wizardry with the ball, there’s plenty of options to choose from.
But lately, it’s been the adept passing from the Celtics that is at the center of not only their highlights, but also of their strong play inside the bubble.
The C’s picked up dimes all over the court in Tuesday’s 122-107 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, notching 29 assists as a team — it was the fourth straight game Boston posted at least 27 assists — which lead to a well-oiled offensive performance.
“These guys were blitzing a lot, they were up on screens a lot. We had to pop the ball and move the ball and make sure we kept it that way,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “I’ve seen a great willingness and great enthusiasm from our team to really move it and so we just got to keep it up.”
The contrast is glaring when the Celtics move the ball offensively compared to when it stays stagnate and they play iso basketball. Just twice have the Celtics not reached the 20-assist plateau during the NBA restart and it came in their two losses versus the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks as Boston posted 15 and 18 helpers, respectively, in those defeats.
The Celtics hit a high-water mark of 32 assists in an overtime victory over the Orlando Magic Sunday and their offense, which scored 122 points for the third straight game against Memphis, was sparked once again by stellar ball movement.
Boston’s stars have spearheaded the unselfish effort as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both displayed that their offensive games encompass more than high-volume scoring.
Brown dished out the pass of the game early in the second quarter and one that will lead the highlight-reels. With the Grizzlies in a shell defense and having lost track fo Robert Williams along the baseline, Brown quickly noticed and fired a magnificent, bullet pass before Jonas Valanciunas could get his hands up in defense. The pass hit Williams perfectly right underneath the bucket and all that was left for Williams to do was elevate for an easy dunk.
Tatum poured in a game-high 29 points despite drawing plenty of attention from the Memphis defense. And when the Grizzlies focused too much on Tatum, he showcased the court vision to find open teammates.
In one instance it happened to be Marcus Smart after Memphis blitzed hard on Tatum and tried to trap him out near half-court. Tatum worked around the Valanciunas and Dillon Brooks before spotting Smart on the weak side of the defense and tossing up an alley-oop to Smart for another bucket at the rim.
“It’s just a matter of reading the defense,” Tatum said. “It’s something we focused on in these last couple of games is just ball movement. On the offensive end, I think that’s when we’re at our best when we’re moving it with pace.”
Right now, there is no player better on the Celtics ensuring ball movement than Marcus Smart. For a second straight game, Smart doled out nine assists and over the past three contests, Smart is boasting a sterling 23-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Smart has become particularly crafty in screen-and-rolls with Williams. Smart often uses a pick from the TimeLord to get into the heart of an opponent’s defense before somewhat nonchalantly lobbing a pass up to Williams for a thunderous slam.
Smart also analyzes a defense as he comes up the floor and knows exactly what he wants to do with the ball. He does that here by noticing Tatum down low and feeding him the ball quickly before Tatum knocks down a silky-smooth turnaround jumper.
The Celtics passing was so pristine versus Memphis that Gordon Hayward’s behind-the-back pass leading to a Brad Wanamaker corner 3-pointer is just another pass lumped in with the rest of them.
That’s the level Boston’s ball movement has reached recently. Through sharing the basketball, the Celtics have realized that’s the only way they can achieve their maximum potential offensively.
“I think we’re doing a great job moving the basketball,” Kemba Walker said. “We’re being really unselfish. Even at times, a little bit too unselfish, honestly. But, I think that’s a good thing to be too unselfish. We have guys who are willing to give the basketball up. Whenever the ball is moving the way it is, we’re pretty tough to stop because we have so many weapons on the perimeter.”