Robert Williams played a significant role in the Boston Celtics' victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 by providing vertical spacing and protecting the rim with his long wingspan and elite leaping ability. Yet, when watching Williams this season, there has been one aspect of his offensive game that has gone seemingly unnoticed, and that’s his ‘cut creation.’
When I discuss ‘cut creation,’ I’m talking about developing a scoring opportunity for a teammate due to the space created by a cut that usually occurs before a pass is made to a shooter. Fortunately, Williams provided us with a great example late in the second quarter, where his cut opened up space on the wing for Horford to nail an easy three-point jumper.
The Celtics go into their stagger screen series as they look to get Jayson Tatum the ball atop the perimeter. As Tatum comes off the second screen in the stagger, Robert Williams darts toward the rim, taking Clint Capela with him and forcing John Collins to tag his roll, thus leaving Horford wide open on the wing.
Tatum recognizes the space, quickly directs the ball to Horford, and BOOM, easy three with the defense scrambling to close out in time. Yet, had Williams not made that cut, the Celtics would have had no advantage to exploit. Below is an annotated version of the play.
Throughout the season, we’ve seen the Celtics utilize cut creation to generate open jumpers on the perimeter, with Horford and Tatum being the primary beneficiaries. The interesting part of the action above is how the Celtics used the threat of a lob pass to force Atlanta into overreacting on the play.
Late in the first quarter, the Celtics ran a similar play out of a sideline out-of-bounds (SLOB) possession, with Williams receiving and finishing a lob pass as a result.
Executing plays out of their wide stagger actions isn’t anything new for the Celtics — those plays have been a staple for this team throughout the regular season. However, seeing them run plays that are easily mistaken and then flow into variations out of those setups is encouraging, especially against a team that’s known for being defensively porous.
It’s also worth noting that Boston has utilized cut creation outside of their big men and has not solely relied on screening actions to generate easy shots courtesy of smart cutting actions. Take the below play, for example, where Derrick White’s cut from the wing (45-cut) draws two defenders into him, allowing Jayson Tatum to ghost in from the weakside corner to receive an easy pass and get the finish.
Joe Mazzulla has done a solid job of getting his team to implement delayed-cutting actions, where a player's movement generates opportunities for someone else on the floor. Couple those movements with a true lob threat and cut creation becomes a valuable weapon in the Celtics' offensive arsenal, one that the Hawks might not have an answer to.