When you look around the NBA, you often see multiple teams running similar offensive and defensive actions. However, look a little bit closer, and you will quickly realize that each action has countless little variances to them and that those subtle tweaks are usually the coach’s flare of sprinkling in some of their own seasoning to add to a common dish.
On Thursday evening, as the Boston Celtics bounced back from two straight defeats with an emphatic victory over the Dallas Mavericks, we saw the Celtics run an action that is popularly used around the league — but we saw that little sprinkling of Joe Mazzulla in there, too. The action itself is known as a ‘chin action’ and is referred to as such because the common call is when a coach or player touches their chin before executing the set.
You can see an annotated explanation of what a standard/basic ‘chin action’ is by clicking the Instagram post above.
- Ball handler makes a pass to a player around the top of the perimeter, usually a wing or big
- A secondary player (also usually a wing or big) sets a rip screen (a back screen)
- The initial passer then cuts on the non-ball side of the screener
- Pass receiver then looks to feed the cutter with an entry pass
Under Mazzulla, the Celtics have run multiple versions of this set, yet the one they ran against Dallas was by far my favorite thus far.
The first thing that stands out with this action is how Joe Mazzulla chose to incorporate both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, forcing the Mavericks' defense to adjust their pickup points and, thus, creating space behind the defense.
From there, Brown played the role of pass receiver, and Tatum operated as the rip screener. However, once Marcus Smart makes his cut, things start to unfold a little differently than you would expect from a normal chin action. Rather than having Tatum pop onto the perimeter to generate even more space for the cutter (Smart), Mazzulla has instructed Tatum to slip his screen and roll toward the rim.
Suddenly, the Mavericks' defense is exposed, and one of the best offensive players in the NBA has an open lane to the bucket. Give credit to Jaylen Brown, too. His pocket pass was perfect, and it helped split the defense to give Tatum the space he needed to finish the action.
Another reason why this action was so fun and so Mazzulla is because of the growing regularity in which Tatum is operating as the roll man this season and the impact it's having on the Celtics' overall offense and the options it creates.
Mazzulla isn’t the only coach putting his spin on a common play or set, but it sure is fun when he does so, especially when it leads to an easy bucket in the middle of a bounce-back game. I, for one, am excited to see what he comes up with next.