I know art when I see it. Back in 2013, Doc Rivers in the final season of the Big Three era painted a stunning example of balance, supporting his aging stars with a deep rotation of role players. A year later, it was Brad Stevens carving a Venus de Milo of a box score using his read-and-react offense to utilize every player on the roster.
A decade later, it’s head coach Joe Mazzulla with the empty canvas.
The Celtics’ 105-102 win over the Raptors on Friday night wasn’t exactly the prettiest game of the year. Yes, it was an In-Season Tournament game, so we had to deal with the eye sore of those custom courts. But with Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis back in the fold after missing Wednesday’s road opener in Philadelphia, Mazzulla had all his paint brushes at his disposal.
Shot distribution: The Greek philosopher Plotonius once said that “beauty is rather a light that plays over the symmetry of things than that symmetry itself.” Through twelve games this season, the Celtics have shot nearly half of their shots from behind the arc (44.3 3PA out of 90.1 FGA). In Toronto last night, they had an even split of 46 and 46. No team has a more perfect dichotomy. Oh, and guess how many threes Sam Hauser made? 3 of 6.
Boston wasn’t lighting the nets on fire on Friday (16-of-46, including 1-of-11 for Jayson Tatum), but the shot distribution just shows how much this team can spread the floor and use all 94 feet of it. A week ago, they shot a ridiculous 76.2% from two-point range in a blowout hosting the Raptors; Toronto did a better job forcing them to the mid-range more, but that didn’t matter. The Celtics were 6-of-11 outside of the paint and 12-of-16 in the restricted area.
Helpers: Boston boasts the fourth most efficient offense in the league at 119.2 points per 100 possessions, trailing Indiana, Dallas, and Philadelphia. One of the knocks has been their reliance on isolations and attacking mismatches rather than passing the ball to create open shots. Now, obviously the numbers speak for themselves. What does it matter how you score if you score?
However, if you’re a fan of the beautiful game (ironically, a style of play that Raptors rookie head coach Darko Rajaković is trying to implement in The 6), the Celtics assisted on 29 of their 42 made field goals. It illustrates their steady improvement and commitment to move the ball in November with a 61.7% assist rate, up nearly ten points from October.
That’s poetry in motion. Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, and Kristaps Porzingis all had five dimes a piece with the Jays doing most of the scoring. During this five-game win streak, the team is averaging fewer than ten turnovers a game.
Scoring distribution: The Raptors are a physical, handsy defensive team. They’re super switchy and can throw 6’9 guy after 6’9 guy at you on a consistent basis. To beat them, everybody on the floor has to be able to score.
Seven Celtics scored in double figures on the night with Hauser and Al Horford contributing eleven a piece. Payton Pritchard had just five, but lead the team as a +11 for the game in his 17 minutes of play.
Tatum is an MVP candidate. Brown and Porzingis alternate between being the #2. White has had some big games as a fourth and fifth option. But when the team is most dangerous is when everybody is finding ways to contribute. Outside of Tatum’s twenty-two shot attempts, no one took over 14. Boston gang rebounded and kept Toronto to just five off the offensive glass.
Mazzulla admitted after the game that “it was one of our lesser performances. It was the first time all year we weren’t the best version of ourselves.” That may not exactly sound like the words of an artist proud of their work, but through the eyes of this beholder, that’s what makes it art in its highest form.
“It was just a great game. We were fortunate enough to come out a win and were able to learn a lot and feel a lot of the things that we haven’t felt yet as a team,” Mazzulla continued.
Art is meant to draw out an emotion, and in a game that featured the joys of a 16-point lead at halftime and the frustrations of losing it, it also revealed the togetherness and resoluteness of a team chasing an NBA title.