After an extremely hot first half from the Boston Celtics on Friday night, the Hawks needed to try something to disrupt the C’s rhythm. But the natural playmaking, IQ and experience of the Celtics’ frontline decimated the changeup 2-3 zone by throwing the ball to the high post and executing countless high-low looks.
Atlanta’s porous zone didn’t do anything to deny the ball from entering the high post. Once there, Daniel Theis tapped into his underrated playmaking toolbox and made the right read. On the inside, Tristan Thompson was sealing one of the bottom guys in the zone on his back, creating an early look for the high-low pass:
When post entry passes come from the middle of the floor and to a player in the middle of the floor, it’s really difficult for the defense to know whose responsibility it is to help. Almost every NBA defense is constructed to send help from the “low man,” the defender closest to the baseline on the other side of the floor. But if the ball is in the middle, it’s hard to know what side of the floor is the “other” side.
The Thompson-Theis pairing this season has been up and down, but Friday night was a massive high point. The 2-3 zone served as a catalyst for the two to get on the same page. After the failed experiment in a zone, Atlanta went back to man-to-man... only this time it was much more aggressive in trapping or pressuring Kemba Walker.
Walker made the smart and unselfish play every time, splitting the double with a pass to his screener. Once that happened, the Celtics had a 4-on-3 to attack. In the two-big lineups with Theis and Thompson, that meant one would have the ball and one would be stationed near the block, waiting for a dump down.
The mechanics of the play worked the exact same at that point as against the 2-3 zone. If help came off the corners, one shooter would be open for a 3-pointer. If everyone stayed home and the defender from the block stepped up to take the ball, it was an easy high-low pass for the bucket.
What was wonderful to see on Friday was both Thompson and Theis get in on the distributing, finding each other for lobs:
The Celtics won’t face this little resistance regularly on the interior. The Hawks are thin up front and struggle on this end of the court. But any game these two bigs develop positive chemistry together is a win. Kemba’s strong play has a lot to do with it, which enabled the pair to execute high-low looks by forcing the Hawks to blitz him.