How the Celtics changed things in a major way

NBA Analytics Network

Needing a win to close the gap in the Eastern Conference standings, the Boston Celtics managed to defeat the Charlotte Hornets on Monday with a 113-107 final score. Now there is only half a game separating the two teams as they battle it out for the top spot in the play-ins. Now, as the NBA trade deadline approaches, the C’s are clicking high.

LaMelo Ball (38) and Terry Rozier (23) had very impressive performances in their loss to the Celtics, accounting for 57% of the Hornets’ points. Boston held the rest of the roster in check.

After going 2-5 after losing 117-113 to the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day, the Celtics held just an 18-21 record in 39 games. It was a low point in the 2021-22 NBA season for a team that had high expectations. Some have even speculated that the Jaylen Brown trade could bring much-needed upheaval.

Since that time, the Celtics have gone 10-4 and have been arguably the most efficient team in the NBA, posting a defensive rating of 101.8 and a net rating of 11.1 during that streak. Grinding it in defense with energy and sharp execution set the tone.

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the The Boston Celtics’ game against the Hornets showed off their defensive versatility, especially down the stretch. As seen in the breakdown below, Boston has Al Horford to run the center of the opposition with long and quick hands in other places in the unit, so if a team has a big man who doesn’t shoot off the floor, the Celtics have the tools to make in-the-paint operations a real challenge.

In the latter stages of this breakdown in the tweet above, the Hornets opted to go with PJ Washington central on the stretch to open the floor for Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball to attack. It worked initially since, as seen in the third clip, Robert Williams III had to stay home in Washington to help against Rozier’s drive, which made for an easy layup.

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“Everyone is holding their own and helping each other at all times. I think that’s the most important thing we do,” Williams III said of the Celtics’ defense, via the team’s official website. “Even when we individually have slip-ups in defense, I feel like the second line does a great job of supporting each other.”

Now where things get interesting is in the fact that Williams III has the athletic tools and awareness to not only be able to adjust enough on that essential possession in the fifth clip to get a solid contest on the three-pointer of Washington when identifying the off-screen ball action, he arrives squarely with a blocked shot.

the The Boston Celtics can essentially play top defense when facing a team that goes big with Horford on the ground surrounding him with pesky long defenders, or they can slide on Williams III to the fifth point to match a small ball. The impact Brown has on the defensive end on a regular basis should not be underestimated and has been critical to the Celtics’ overall success.

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In the stretch against the Hornets, he did a little bit of everything to make life harder for LaMelo Ball from containing a practice on a sliding screen ending in a contest pull-up to shooting a load on a rim-roll . More importantly, his close struggle on Ball’s pull-up from deep while holding four points with around 11 seconds left helped seal the win.

The roster with Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Robert Williams III and Al Horford has been an elite group defensively, but it hasn’t been limited to that side of things. The group logged 225 minutes on the season and recorded a staggering offensive rating of 116.4, a defensive rating of 90.6 and a net rating of 25.9. No team that has logged 100 minutes in the NBA has been better than this group.

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“There’s a certain familiarity between these guys who have been here for a while,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said of the roster. “Obviously the physique is in place with a strong point guard, big wings and two big players. We have a size advantage. I like our versatility, our physique, our connectivity.

On offense, the Celtics continued to rely heavily on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to carry the charge. The two players have combined to average 50.5 points per game over the past 14 games, with Tatum (26.4) and Brown (24.1) each above the 24 points per game threshold. However, the team as a whole converting at a clip of 36.2% from three-point range after being at 33.3% previously opened things up inside.

Tatum continued to struggle in his search for a consistent rhythm beyond the arc, whether on catch-and-shoot looks or more difficult shot-making sequences. For reference, he’s only shooting 31.0 percent from deep in that successful 14-game streak for the Celtics. Excluding his production, Boston shot 37.7 percent from three-point range, providing plenty of floor space around him.

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Admittedly, the The Boston Celtics played quite a few underwhelming defenses that miss a lot for a rim-protecting presence, but regardless, it’s encouraging to see Tatum punishing these matchups. There’s no point in often settling for hard hits when he often has a size advantage and is shrewd at getting down and finishing when he actually gets to the rim.

Where Tatum has ramped up production is its efficiency on the rim. During that streak, he shoots at a staggering 65.7% in the restricted area, which is 38.0% of his shot attempts. With a clear focus to reach the rim hard, coupled with teammates knocking down shots and sending him off, the ground stays open more often for him and Brown.

“The game plan that everyone has is to get the Jays to pass the ball,” Marcus Smart said. “They have to do a good job, and they did a phenomenal job there. By doing this, it will clear the way for them at the end of the line when it’s time to take over and it will make it difficult for defenses to load up when you have guys shooting the ball, making shots and making good play. “

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The Celtics have continually received strong production from Brown in the catch-and-shoot department as he converts at a 41.8% clip from deep over that 14-game streak. He’s been steady in many other key areas of the scoring department and that’s all Boston needs given he’s raising the floor of the half-court offense. With the team firing full throttle on defense, it’s easy to see why they win games.

The future of the Boston Celtics clearly revolves around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown thriving in tandem with the unit as a whole playing elite defense. When all of this happens, the team will win games and have a base to build on to become a real title threat again.


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