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Offensive adjustments kept Celtics close to Jazz’s onslaught

The Celtics made some key offensive adjustments against the Jazz, which allowed them to keep pace right to the very end.

Boston Celtics v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Against one of the best teams in the NBA, the Boston Celtics offense came alive. Movement, screening actions, intelligent shot selection; it's like all the parts of their offensive jigsaw fell into place, and at times, it was beautiful. But, before we look at how the Celtics initiated their offense to limit the Utah Jazz's defensive gameplan, we owe Ime Udoka a tip of the hat because his in-game adjustments were superb for the most part.

The Jazz are one of the most fun teams to watch in the league right now, a formidable defense mixed with a high-octane, run-and-gun offense that gets the pulse racing. However, their defensive approach is the thing that garners the most intrigue. Ranked 10th in defensive ratings, the Jazz use what I have coined the "Venus flytrap" defense, where the offensive ball-handler is the fly, and Rudy Gobert is the pincer waiting to reign down in the blink of an eye.

Utah finds success with the flytrap by tricking players on the perimeter, funneling them towards their towering center, before shots get sent back like table service at a subpar restaurant. The key to this defensive system is to force players middle, where Gobert can operate in the drop, and use his wingspan to alter any mid-range jumpers with ease. At the same time, the wing defenders pressure ball-handlers back towards the break as often as possible.

Against the Celtics, the defensive game plan worked early on, allowing the Jazz to jump out to an early 4-15 lead, as Boston's offensive possessions were littered with tentativeness and a lack of self-belief. But then, the adjustment came, and Boston's offense never looked back.

Instead of playing above the break, the Celtics began initiating actions on the wing, only venturing into flytrap territory to initiate second or third-side actions. Cutters were moving fluidly to ensure the defensive wing pressure remained minimal, and with that, Gobert's impact began to wane. Of course, Boston still attacked by driving middle, but it was often to engage the defending big before redirecting the rock to the wings or corners.

This possession is an excellent example of how the Celtics looked to nullify the Stifle Tower and snap that flytrap clean open. Dennis Schroder engages Gobert on the drive before kicking the ball back out to the perimeter, which tests the Jazz's center's ability to change direction at speed. Jayson Tatum immediately cuts towards the paint to engage the strong-side wing defenders, and Horford drives middle, testing Goberts balance before kicking it out to Marcus Smart. The latter has lifted from the corner to the wing for an easy catch-and-shoot three.

Simple play, right? But this was how the Celtics gained most of their offensive traction in half-court situations. Engaging the big-man early and often kept him out of the scoring action and allowed cutters to occupy defenders' minds while the scoring actions unfolded around them.

Here's another example of the offense engaging the defense's attention before swinging the rock to the weak side. This time, the play unfolds due to an inverted screen (smaller player screening for a bigger player) that forces a mismatch. Which in this instance, leaves Mike Conley guarding Grant Williams, who bullies his way into the paint, enters his layup motion, and then redirects the ball to Horford in the corner.

Again, the Celtics were testing Gobert's mobility, making him work on every shot contest, and most importantly, finding ways to attack the paint without the risk of a giant hand clamping down on them.

Above, we have yet another example of how the Celtics dragged Gobert onto the perimeter, hunted the mismatch, then got an easy look around the rim. Sure, this type of offense isn't rocket science, but it requires complete buy-in from players 1-through-15, as without the screening and cutting, you're left with basic side pick-and-roll actions that are just too easy to scheme against.

On the season, Gobert is limiting his opponents to 38.7% shooting, yet against the Celtics, that number skyrocketed to 62.5%. Of course, there were moments of brilliance that led to both scoring and three-throw opportunities, the below heads-up play from Tatum being one. But manipulating a defender of Gobert's caliber is an encouraging sign for a Celtics team who have found themselves towards the bottom of the league in offensive rating over the last few months.

What's different about the above play? No Gobert! But the game plan remains the same. Sure, Gobert might have been the catalyst the Celtics needed to function within Udoka's system finally, but when you're generating easy buckets, and everybody is eating, why revert to old?

It's no secret that playing against the Jazz, you're going to have plenty of mid-range jumpers offered to you. Quin Snyder is smart enough to know you won't lose too many games if mid-range jumpers are the only easy bucket on the menu.

The Jazz have only lost 7 games all season, yet, interestingly, 5 of those losses have come against teams who had more than 25% of their offense come at the rim. The Celtics fall into that category, with 28.7% of their looks coming within 4 feet of the basket per Cleaning The Glass. Boston may not have come away with a win against their Western Conference foes, but they understood the required game plan and executed it to perfection once their adjustments were made.

So, while losing to the Jazz adds another "L" to the season record, it feels like the Celtics are finally starting to play the "Udoka" way. Of course, one good offensive game doesn't dictate a new direction for the team, but it does give us a glimmer of hope for what's to come, and if they can repeat their performance against a Damian Lillard-less Portland Trail Blazers' team, then that hope will only grow stronger.