When Brad Stevens took the helm as head coach, the Celtics were at the top of the league in total post-ups. He acknowledged that they're not exactly the most efficient and dynamic play in basketball, but he had to play the hand he was dealt in 2013. Here’s a quick exchange with then Grantland’s Zach Lowe:
Lowe: You’re near the top of the league in total post-ups.
Stevens: And [Brandon] Bass is posting up three times as much as he has in the past. At the end of the day, we have to use all of our strengths.
Lowe: Analytics folks say the post-up, or at least a post-up shot, is a low-efficiency play. But there’s a way to reconcile that, right?
Stevens: There are two ways to get inside-out: driving or posting.
Lowe: In other words: The post-up is more a vehicle for passing and other shots, rather than necessarily for a post-up shot itself?
Stevens: It’s a vehicle for playing inside-out. That’s right.
Fast forward ten years, Stevens is now in the front office, but now head coach Joe Mazzulla sees the same advantages in this year’s roster.
Jayson Tatum is posting up more than ever:— Tomek Kordylewski (@Timi_093) November 2, 2023
↗️ 14.4 FREQ% (5.1 last year)
↗️ 1.36 PPP (1.22 last year)
↗️ 63.6 FG% (55.6 last year)
Hopefully he will continue to do so cause he has size & skills to hunt and dominate + that's only going to unlock even more layers to C's offense. pic.twitter.com/cEeCwD1lYP
“It fits our lineup and roster that we have now. We have four guys that can post and because of the roster, the matchups are different and we can take advantage of matchups in a different way," Mazzulla said before tip off against the Pacers on Wednesday night.
Boston beat Indiana to a pulp 155-104 by hunting mismatches, specifically playing a little bully ball in the post.
Boston’s first bucket was a designed play to invert the defense and get Jrue Holiday a look in the paint. With Myles Turner, one of the league’s premiere shot blockers, above the break covering Kristaps Porzingis, it’s barbecue chicken for Holiday in the paint.
“First play of the game was for me and I had a post up,” Holiday said after posting an ultra-efficient 15 points on 6-of-9 from the field. “I could’ve found someone. But with the talent that we have, who are you gonna guard?”
For Mazzulla, this isn't just "throw ball in post, score ball in post." It's a reset button of sorts.
"I think posting takes the pressure off of all of our guys and allows us to get to our spacing and read where each guy is. We just need to continue and be efficient out of those.”
With all four teammates beyond the arc, Holiday can take advantage of his mismatch and if any defender decides to come down and help, he can spray the ball to any corner of the parquet.
Per tracking data from NBA Stats, the Celtics rank 3rd in post up frequency at 8.8 attempts per game; they’re 4th in points per possession (1.23) good for the 88th percentile in the NBA.
That hasn't just been Kristaps Porzingis using his 7'3 frame on the block. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum hunted Indiana's guards all night with TJ McConnell their most likely target. Boston made 12-of-16 shots with the 6’1 guard as the primary defender. Future Celtic McConnell is a pesky defender, but when the Celtics are as hot as they were Wednesday night, he’s no more than a chair in an empty gym.
“It really helps our switch attack. When we’re able to post vs. switching and force help, it creates 2-on-1’s and you get step in shots,” Mazzulla said. “It just complements the roster and lineups on the floor.”
We pointed this out on Wednesday, but the Celtics are not averaging a ton of assists per game, but still own the most efficient offense in the league thanks to the 281 points scored vs. Washington and Indiana this week. It’s not the prettiest form of the game, but for now, they’re keeping it simple by taking advantage of mismatches and getting their scorers in the post.