Brad Stevens may have found the offensive solution for his two-big lineups.
When the Celtics started the season trying to jam Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis together, it was with Theis as more of a wing. The German would spot-up around the 3-point line, vacate the lane and let Thompson be in a screen-and-roll actions. The results weren’t great, and the offense felt stagnant with them together.
At the start of the third quarter in San Francisco, Stevens switched things up a bit, playing through single high ball screens with Kemba Walker. Only, instead of Thompson as the screener, it was Theis.
And instead of jettisoning Thompson to the corner, he’d stand in the dunker’s spot on the baseline, just waiting for a dump down.
It’s a unique move from Stevens, who trusts the playmaking of Theis to create from the nail hole. Kemba’s shooting ability forces defenses to go over the top of high ball screens, and as two guys converge on him, he makes the kick to Theis. From there, it’s on the big man to make the right plays.
The Celtics ran the high screen-and-roll on three consecutive possessions early in the quarter. They generated a dump down to Thompson for a foul, an open Theis rhythm jumper and the opportunity for Kemba to force a switch, then attack a bigger defender to draw two free throws:
The impact of plays like this is compounded by shooters like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown standing in the corners. Their gravity forces help defenders to either stay home on them and let Theis play in the lane, or collapse on the ball and encourage kick out threes. The Golden State Warriors picked the former as their poison on Tuesday night.
Is this the type of action the Celtics should run every play while Thompson and Theis are on the floor together? Of course not. Placing the Celtics two best offensive threats in the corner is far too limiting. But in small stretches, this can be an impactful way to exploit teams who are more aggressive with their pick-and-roll coverage.