The Boston Celtics got back into the win column with their 121-107 dismantling of the Brooklyn Nets. The game was the Celtics’ inaugural in-season tournament contest, which means the Celtics are now undefeated in in-season play all-time. Jokes aside, Boston put together a comprehensive performance on both sides of the court.
Defenders were locked in. Off-ball cutters moved with pace and purpose. Shooters were knocking down their shots. After a two-game downswing, this was a fun bounce-back that got everybody moving in the right direction again.
#1 The in-season tournament courts are fun
Basketball aside, my biggest takeaway from this game — and all in-season tournament games thus far, is that the court designs are fun. I get it. A lot of people hate them. Personally, I think they’ve generated a buzz on social media, good and bad. It’s incredibly easy to differentiate between regular-season play and in-season tournament games. And it’s a nice change of pace to the usual parquet.
I wouldn’t want the courts at every game, but here and there, sure, why not!?
#2 The bench stepped up
Ok, now let's talk about actual basketball. A running theme over the Celtics' first eight games has been the lack of depth on Boston’s bench. Slow starts from Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet were a cause for concern. However, the bench showed up against the Nets, producing 37 points, 21 rebounds, and 5 assists.
I get it. It was only one game. And the Nets were missing multiple role players to injury. You can only beat what’s in front of you, though. Boston’s bench took care of business and did what was expected of them. The key will be finding some consistency with the production. If the Celtics can get a similar impact moving forward, they will be an even tougher prospect for opposing teams to deal with.
#3 Giving Payton Pritchard his flowers
No player on the Celtics roster has come under more scrutiny than Pritchard to begin the season. Maybe Jaylen Brown has come close. Pritchard pushed for a bigger role and was rewarded for his patience and persistence over the summer. After some real stinkers, he finally broke out of his shell, making an impact on both sides of the court.
Offensively, Pritchard finally began to knock down his threes.
Then, the confidence started to flow. Personally, I really liked the below bucket, primarily because of the hustle to chase down his own miss, get back to one of his spots, and have the confidence to let it fly for a second time.
He also made a big impact on the defensive end. Personally, I don’t buy into many defensive metrics. Defense is a team effort, requiring every rotation member to be locked in. However, I do believe that you can learn something from a player's defensive field goal percentage — I see it as a genuine impact metric. Of course, you still have to rationalize help defense, digs, traps, etc, but it’s one that I believe does paint a reliable picture.
That said, Pritchard ended the game with a team-leading 35.7 DFG%, holding his line to force 5-of-14 shooting from the field and 0-of-3 from deep.
Payton Pritchard led the Celtics in DFG% last night. Guarded 14 shots, Brooklyn went 5-of-14 and 0-3 from deep.— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) November 11, 2023
Need to factor in team defense, too - digs, doubles, show, etc. Nevertheless, a strong showing on both sides of the court last night. pic.twitter.com/AmBvT0DsjW
Pritchard needed this sort of bounce-back game. The challenge now is to replicate it on a consistent basis.
#4 Getting nerdy with it: Delayed Cutting
We will have a few nerdy points in today’s takeaways. The first is how the Celtics utilized delayed cutting to add an additional layer of rim pressure into their offense and create easy buckets. Boston utilized delayed cuts frequently at the start of last season and looked to catch Brooklyn’s defense sleeping with them on Friday.
Above, we have a strong example of how delayed cuts can be an effective way of slicing a defense. Pritchard drives from the wing and “Nash’s” his dribble — keeping the dribble alive as you go under the basket and out of the restricted area. As the defense reacts to Pritchard’s penetration (note how two perimeter defenders turn their back to shooters,) Jrue Holiday cuts toward the rim.
Pritchard hits Holiday with an easy dump-off pass that opens up the court for an easy bucket.
In this example, Prtichard is the beneficiary of delaying his cut. Luke Kornet has cut baseline to receive the ball in a post-up position. Again, Brooklyn’s defense turns its back on shooters to focus on the interior action. Pritchard uses a delayed cut to sprint through the middle of the floor and get an open look around the rim.
#5 Kristaps Porzingis’ defense
I’m currently working on a bigger article about this, so I will keep this takeaway brief. Porzingis had a quiet night in terms of scoring and boxscore production. However, his presence on defense and upside as a defensive event creator ensured he remained a vital part of the rotation.
Porzingis finished 2nd on the Celtics in defensive field goal percentage. Brooklyn went 7-of-18 from the field when being guarded by Porzingis and 4-of-8 from deep.
Plays like this, where Porzingis’ size and length force players to adjust their shooting form or release disjointed shots, make the veteran big man such an important part of Boston’s overall scheme. Porzingis creates defensive events by being engaged on that side of the floor and consuming space in the paint vertically and laterally.
#6 Jrue Holiday playing big
Holiday ended the game against Brooklyn just shy of a triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists. When the Celtics added Holiday to their roster during the offseason, we all knew he would be a big-time addition who could contribute on both ends of the floor.
Still, I wasn’t expecting him to play so “big.” By that, I mean guarding opposing centers, operating as a post threat, making an impact as a high-level rebounder, and punishing defenses as a slasher. Holiday is playing bigger than his role, using his physicality and strength to create opportunities for himself and others.
This assist stood out because it was a good example of Holiday’s processing speed. Tatum draws a double-team around the nail and kicks the ball out to the perimeter. A few passes, and Holiday finds himself will the ball in the corner; he beats his man and fakes the drive. The defense sinks to protect from the corner drive, allowing Holiday to take one step and find Tatum wide open above the break. Seeing that opening in real-time while being pressured by defenders is what makes Holiday such a high-level playmaker.
Then there was this steal into an assist.
And a rebound into a transition assist.
There is a lot to like from Holiday, both in his performance against Brooklyn and his overall production since joining the team.
#7 Getting nerdy with it part 2: Canceling actions
Canceling an action means to stop it from occurring. It could be getting between a ball-handler and the screener or having a hand in the passing lane. Defenses look to cancel actions whenever possible. It’s far more difficult than it sounds, though. You need to ensure the aggressive defense doesn’t result in a counter like a back-cut or secondary screen that blows the coverage open.
To begin the season, Boston has done a good job of knowing when to try and cancel an action or when to defend it straight up. There was one possession in the in the first quarter when the Nets looked to go into their zoom series (a corner pin-down into a dribble hand-off.) Sam Hauser and Derrick White blew up the offensive movements, forcing the Nets to react and try to find some offense late in the clock.
As you can see, White cancels the first DHO by getting between the receiver and the ball-handler. The initial pin-down screener then curls to try and receive the DHO to keep the play alive. Hauser cancels the second DHO by getting his hands into the passing lane and making it hard to initiate the hand-off.
Defensive possessions like these are important because they’re building good habits. Some of the best teams in the NBA run their offense through hand-off creation. Having options for defending those actions or forcing secondary actions will be integral further down the line.
#8 Points off turnovers
The Celtics scored 18 points off Brooklyn’s turnovers, giving them 16 16-point advantage in turnover scoring on the night. With so many high-level defenders and an active perimeter defense, it makes sense for Boston to make the most of forced and unforced errors. The clip of Holiday making an assist off a steal in the section above is a good example of how the Celtics looked to turn defense to offense in the blink of an eye.
#9 Getting nerdy with it part 3: Fake wide-pin curl
Since I’ve been doing the takeaways, one thing I’ve focused on is the different types of offense Boston has looked to utilize. As such, it’s fun to notice when one of those offensive principles is used to fake an action that leads to a fun play. We saw that happen when Kornet faked a wide pin-down for a corner shooter before ghosting the screen and curling toward the rim. The play ended in a lob that the 7-footer knocked down with ease.
By faking the wide pin-down for Brown, the Nets defenders are forced to take one step up toward the perimeter to be able to defend Brown when he receives the pass. Instead, Kornet’s curl gives him a smidge of space, allowing him to finish the lob play without much resistance. Lovely.
#10 Tatum drawing fouls down the stretch
Every Celtics fan can remember a time when they wanted Jayson Tatum to be more aggressive in drawing fouls. Getting to the line is an important part of a star’s offensive skillset. We had a period where Tatum would complain to the refs and try to pressure them into blowing the whistle. None of us liked that.
This season, Tatum is all about the work. He’s playing with physicality, embracing the contact, and letting his play do the talking. Still, when the game was in the fourth quarter, and Tatum drew multiple foul calls out of post-ups, it was enjoyable to sit back and think of his overall growth.
I didn’t think to pull a clip of Tatum being fouled in the post when watching the game back this morning, and the NBA Stats site doesn’t have one available. Still, there were a couple of possessions where he drew the contact and got to the line. That’s what we’ve all been asking for. That’s a benefit of working in the post and drawing so much attention. The game may already have been in the bag for the Celtics, but later in the season, Tatum could find himself putting the offense on his back with post possessions and getting to the line.
The Celtics will get no rest after their win over Brooklyn. They go straight into a game against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Scottie Barnes will be an interesting test for the Celtics, as will the length Toronto can put on the court with Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby leading the way. Boston has enough talent to make it a two-win weekend. Hopefully, they can pull it off.