Joe Mazzulla is quickly earning himself a reputation as being an innovative offense-minded coach and has the Celtics running some beautiful stuff in the half-court. On Monday against the Chicago Bulls, things were no different, as Boston flashed a new wrinkle out of their Spain action.
Usually, Mazzulla likes his ball handler to use the Spain action as a decoy, allowing them to reject the screen, and use the space created by the ‘popper’ to drive into the paint and pressure the rim. However, against Chicago, Mazzulla instructed the first screener to dive hard into the paint, ideally by slipping their screen before contact had been initiated.
Luke Kornet was the first beneficiary of this new wrinkle, slipping his screen to get wide-open around the rim.
As you can see, Kornet’s slip causes all kinds of confusion for the defense, and provides him with an unimpeded drive to the rim, when a quick high-low entry pass sets up the easiest bucket of the entire night.
Of course, it helps that Malcolm Brogdon was the ball handler, and Hauser was the popper because they both bring shooting gravity to the table, but it was clear Mazzulla knew what he was doing when he designed this play.
We can see the same play being run again here, this time with Grant Williams operating as the first screener in the action and Jaylen Brown operating as the popper. Still, the outcome is the same, except that Williams allows his initial screen to make contact before beginning his roll toward the rim.
One of the reasons this is so successful is because the defender who switches onto the rolling big often feels compelled to stay on the perimeter and defend the popper, or at least to pressure them, before realizing their man is already in the paint. We can see that exact thing happening in both of the clips above, which is why sending your initial screener on a dilly-dally towards the rim makes perfect sense.
Unfortunately, these two plays were some of the few highlights from Boston’s performance, as they fell flat against a Chicago Bulls team that seems to have them all figured out. Still, after 18 regular-season games, it’s nice to know that Mazzulla still has plenty of surprises sitting inside that encyclopedic playbook of his.
And hopefully, we continue to see Boston utilize their Spain decoy actions, along with this new wrinkle and some of the other understated screening sets they’ve been running to begin the year because one thing’s for sure: opposing teams are being put in tough positions on almost a play-by-play basis.