It’s the offseason. News is difficult to come by, and the rumor mill is working overtime. The NBA is often referred to as a year-round source of entertainment, yet August is always the toughest month. With some new faces on the roster and some beloved ones having moved onto new pastures, you could be forgiven for wanting to fast-forward to opening night.
While we wait for training camp and preseason, I’ve been going over some of the tape from the Boston Celtics' dominant start to life under Joe Mazzulla. In the opening months of the season, Mazzulla-ball was dismantling teams left and right. There was no answer for the high-paced, screen-heavy system the Celtics were running, as teams were left shellshocked at the end of their 48-minute mauling.
Yes, that brand of basketball evaporated as the season wore on, and ultimately, the Celtics simplified their approach — to their detriment. However, there’s no reason to believe Mazzulla and his new coaching staff won’t look to implement some of the actions that saw Boston dominate once the new season gets underway.
With that in mind, over the remainder of the offseason, I will be breaking down some of my favorite actions from those early games. Not all of these plays will end in a bucket or a stop. Instead, I’m focused on the process. Did the play create a high-quality scoring opportunity? Did it generate a mismatch? Was the defense in sync?
Today, we will be looking at the Celtics ‘Iverson Gut DHO,’ which is far simpler than its name makes it sound. Before we go any further, here is the full play at game speed.
The play opens with Malcolm Brogdon bringing the ball up the court. The Chicago Bulls' defense is set up to deny an entry pass and pressure the perimeter. As Brogdon slows the play down and the Celtics enter their halfcourt set, there isn’t a genuine point of entry. Chicago has three bodies across the free-throw line extended, and Alex Caruso is picking up Brogdon.
The Celtics go to an Iverson Cut, which is a cross-court cut along the free-throw line region of the court, usually with a screener (or potential screener) on each elbow.
As you can see, the right side of the court is overloaded to begin this half-court possession. By running an Iverson action, the Celtics will improve their offensive spacing and create multiple entry points for Brogdon to choose from, but more on that in a moment.
As Tatum comes off the first screen, which Luke Kornet sets, Grant Williams flows into a ‘gut screen.’ A ‘gut screen’ is simply a down screen (where the screener is facing the baseline) that is set in the middle (or close to the middle) of the court, inside of the restricted area. Hence, the screen is set in the gut of the floor.
With Tatum’s Iverson cut now complete and Williams having relocated to the mid-block for his screening action to spring Hauser free, Boston’s spacing is vastly improved. As such, Brogdon is able to feed Kornet on the elbow before relocating off-ball and threatening to initiate a dribble hand-off with Kornet.
As Brogdon relocates, and Kornet ‘rejects’ the hand-off opportunity, Hauser is curling off of Williams’ gut screen, allowing him to enter his own hand-off action — thus completing the ‘gut DHO.’ Suddenly, the Celtics' offense has space and shooters lined up around the perimeter, forcing Chicago into a difficult situation.
Once the DHO has taken place, the ‘Iverson Gut DHO’ action has been completed. No, the Celtics haven’t generated a scoring opportunity, but now, their offense is in much better shape, and the Bulls' defense has been stretched. With more room to maneuver, the Celtics flow into a read-and-react offense, which begins with a Kornet screen for Hauser.
After the screen, Kornet short-rolls toward the nail, forcing the Bulls' defense to sink. Williams cuts from the mid-post, dragging his defender with him, and occupying Caruso’s attention, who may need to help if Williams receives the ball. Instead, Chicago’s decision to collapse toward the ball has left Tatum wide-open in the slot, allowing Kornet to find him for a wide-open three.
The shot doesn’t fall. The process is good, though. The play started with a sturdy perimeter defense, with Boston’s best scorer on an overloaded side of the court. A cut, screen, curl, hand-off, screen, short-roll, and then, boom, there’s a wide-open three with no defender in sight.
Joe Mazzulla’s system is predicated on generating high-quality looks from the perimeter. Early in the season, actions such as the one depicted in this article were prevalent from start to finish and often generated the desired result. Now, we can only hope Boston reverts to this fluid brand of basketball when the new season gets underway.
I mean, could you imagine this type of action with Kristaps Porzingis in Kornet’s role? And how much gravity, spacing, and scoring potential would be on the court at any given time? Exciting times lie ahead.