If Wednesday night was about what Kristaps Porzingis can do for the Celtics, Friday night’s win over the Miami Heat was all about teamwork! (jazz hands)
The Heat rolled into town and immediately chose violence, strapping threes from funny angles and giving my entire household PTSD from last year’s playoffs. But this Celtics squad isn’t that same one that almost lost custody of their dignity to the Heat last year. At their worst, that team felt like a collection of individuals. This team is… a team! (jazz hands again)
The way the Celtics spread out their scoring last night reminded me of injury-riddled versions of old teams, often led by the combined efforts of legends like Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and Jonas Jerebko. Night after night, these Celtics would manage convincing wins on the backs of five or even six guys in double figures.
Not that these guys weren’t certified ballers—I still rock a Bradley jersey and Olynyk might unironically be my favorite Celtic ever—but last night saw that concept extended to a lineup with four whole All-Stars and one whole Derrick White. Double figures all around, led by White and Jaylen Brown in the scoring department.
This spread-out attack is something every NBA team would love to do in theory, but no other team approaches the level of offensive talent the Celtics have kicking around. Jayson Tatum is one of the premier bucket getters in the league, and he’s surrounded by four other three-level scorers. Porzingis and Brown are elite, while White and Holiday can get the job done and then some.
And man did White get the job done on Friday. In fact, the job was so done he started picking up new jobs to save some extra dough for retirement. He scored 28 points on great efficiency, and head coach Joe Mazzulla described his play as “sick.” I concur.
Last year, I witnessed the Celtics blow a bunch of awesome White games, simply because he was the only guy doing anything at all in the half court. But this year, the rest of the team had his back, and while the half court offense didn’t always work, it always felt like it might.
Any Celtics fan will tell you that last year’s half court offense was either as smooth as butter or as rough as a crappy dollar store nail file. Sometimes getting good shots felt impossible, and the Celtics’ success hinged on if someone could pull a bucket out of thin air.
But this year, that kind of stagnation feels almost impossible with the amount of scoring options running amok on the parquet. Nothing doing on the perimeter? Find that 7’3” guy down low. Is he double-teamed? Kick to one of the four shooters. Did the defense recover? Have Tatum go 1-on-1 in the post. Too much heat down low? Have Brown or Holiday penetrate off the dribble.
Did that sound like a lot? It felt like a lot, and I didn’t even get a White shoutout in there. This team just has way too many options to consistently look lost. Guys can cover each other’s weaknesses and cook in all sorts of ways. That was on full display Friday night.
There was a darker version of this game that almost happened. Jaylen lost the handle a couple of times early, even air balling a couple of easy looks. The Heat were definitely in his head, and that exact issue has a tendency to sink the Celtics. I suddenly had visions of the Heat diving at Jaylen every time he put the ball on the floor. The nightmares…the terror! Not again not again not agai—
But then something wonderful happened. Brown could relax, and let his teammates take over while he regrouped. It wasn’t all on him because it just didn’t have to be. Holiday stabilized the offense with a couple solid drives, and Tatum slowed it down in the post—shredding rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. like a fresh block of mozzarella. All the while, Jaylen got it together big time, drilling the dagger three-ball to send the Celtics to 2-0.
If this even-steven approach to offense can crystallize into something truly consistent, and the Celtics can become certain of their identity in the half court, this is going to be awesome.