Nothing sweeter than not losing, and the Celtics are 4-0 since our last Three Leaf Clover. The cherry on top of the proverbial basketball court shaped cake is beating the Sixers which we will get to in a bit. Lots of great stuff to discuss this week.
Stat of the Week: 11th
According to NBA Stats’ play type data, Jayson Tatum is posting up the 11th most in the league (tied with Wemby, Jaren Jackson Jr., and KD). The 10 players ahead of him are various types of big men and Zion Williamson. The NBA’s tracking has him down for 3.0 post up possessions a game, but that only triggers when Tatum takes a shot out of one — he’s actually posting up much more often than that.
Oh, it’s probably worth mentioning of the 30 players that average 2 or more post ups per game, Tatum is 4th in efficiency at 1.27 points per possession. He trails only Alpern Sengun, SGA, and Kristaps Porzingis, who just happens to be the most efficient high volume post up guy in the entire freaking NBA.
The top 4 players in post up efficiency that average more than 2 per game. pic.twitter.com/3vJjVqENCX— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) November 16, 2023
Tatum’s maturing right before our eyes, after only averaging 1.4 post ups per game last season, he’s moved up to three while, most importantly, remaining at almost the exact same level of elite efficiency. High level post up players force help and doubles in addition to being low turnover plays. It’s a mix that Tatum can go to create easy offense for himself and others, and to secure a decent look during crunch time. It’s becoming an important aspect of how the Celtics and Tatum attack teams.
Xs and Ooooohhhhs: Joe throwing defensive curveballs
Joe Mazzulla went on J.J. Reddick’s podcast and started talking about curveballs like he was Mark Mulder in 2002 (I’m not a baseball guy, the only big curveball pitcher I know is Barry Zito, and I used that comparison a few weeks ago, so this is all I got). His meaning was that last year, on both sides of the ball, we didn’t have many different ways to play. Our offense was, at times, too predictable and the defense a fairly mundane man-to-man scheme that dropped against pick-and-rolls. Mazz has, so far, kept his word, especially on the defensive end.
Over the last few weeks, the Celtics defense has looked unrecognizable at times. Joe is doing a lot of creative stuff on that end; regularly keeping opposing teams off-balance by extending pressure full-court and mixing up coverages in the halfcourt. Here’s a few just from the Philly game.
Our fairly normal man-to-man halfcourt defense with drop against the pick-and-roll, but with the added wrinkle of soft full-court pressure to milk some shot clock.
Soft full-court pressure into man. Dropping against the pick and roll. Great stuff from Al and White. pic.twitter.com/jdXXR2q6GD— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) November 16, 2023
Varying levels of full-court pressure has been a theme, especially when Pritchard is on the court. I love this version where PP hounds the ball-handler then the Cs mix it up with a 2-3 zone.
Extending pressure on the ball handler 94 feet flowing into a 2-3 zone. pic.twitter.com/EMjUZ5fkJz— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) November 16, 2023
Here’s a more traditional 2-2-1 press that Joe’s been experimenting with for a while.
Joe has been mixing in this 2-2-1 press a lot recently. When it's broken, it usually results in the Cs going back to man in the halfcourt. pic.twitter.com/rUMm7EgKWF— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) November 16, 2023
Some stuff hasn’t worked, like this halfcourt trap that got shredded by two passes and Joe seemingly threw away in the trash can, luckily being in Philly means he was in one large trash can.
Halfcourt trap that didn't work and we never saw it again. pic.twitter.com/sJ4LPqADKm— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) November 16, 2023
Then, there’s whatever this is. A 3-2 zone? Soft man coverage? Box and 1 where Jrue is playing free safety? All of the above? I’m not smart enough to really understand it, but I do know one thing: it’s beautiful. I also know two things: it’s effective. Joe has busted this out successfully against the Knicks and now Philly.
I think this is a box and 1 zone, but Jrue isn't assigned to a specific matchup, he's just playing free safety. pic.twitter.com/69fSF8pINM— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) November 16, 2023
It’s this type of innovation and malleability that Joe meant when he brought up curveballs. Unique game planning that has previously given teams like the Heat an edge over the Celtics. It’s extremely encouraging that Joe is using the early season to experiment with different looks, and it’s even more encouraging how many of them are working.
Non-basketball Stuff of the Week: hating the Sixers is fun
Every human is biased, so allow me to indulge my biases here for a minute. The Sixers are extremely easy to hate, and the NBA is simply more fun because of it. Joel Embiid is one of the largest human beings to ever roam the Earth, and I don’t believe that’s an exaggeration. Yet, when gently grazed by an opponent, it’s as if gravity is turned up several notches. He crashes to the floor with the grace of a young teen attempting the Dougie. This isn’t basketball Joel!
This Joel Embiid flop is ridiculous LMAOOO pic.twitter.com/FK1GoZHAGW— BenMuse (@BenSimmons_Muse) November 12, 2023
Joel Embiid with the worst flop of the season pic.twitter.com/aS7IlCpkw9— Tedd Buddwell (@TedBuddy8) May 4, 2023
Hysterical flop from Embiid here lol pic.twitter.com/C8bnjzwos0— Chris Grenham (@chrisgrenham) August 23, 2020
As obnoxious as it is, I’m also glad it happens. It just makes the hate feel so justified. The Celtics haven’t had a true, sustained rivalry in quite some time. Yes, there were the two Finals against the Lakers in the new Big 3 era, that weird 1.5-year stretch where the Wizards were kind of rivals for some reason, and of course Lebron. These Philly games are intense, the fans are into it, and the league takes notice when the teams play each other. The only thing holding it back from being a true rivalry though? The Celtics always win, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.