Bonafide member of the “lamestream” media and certified talking head, Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports fame, proclaimed that the Boston Celtics are becoming basketball’s equivalent of the New England Patriots.
“If you look at the similarities between the Patriots and Celtics, you can go right down the line. A-plus ownership, a coach that is considered a bit of a genius[…] You made an unemotional trade to upgrade, you’re in an inferior conference, and you manipulate draft picks,” said Cowherd.
Regardless of the messenger, in some capacity, I feel like there’s an undeniable degree of truth to that statement.
The Celtics have lost a franchise-caliber player in Gordon Hayward for the season, Marcus Morris for the first seven games, Al Horford for two games, Marcus Smart for two games, Kyrie Irving for essentially two games now, and Jayson Tatum missed the second half of the C’s game against the Lakers. And, in spite of all that, the Celtics have still managed to play with the “next man up” mentality that has made the Patriots infamous over the better part of the last two decades. Even without Kyrie Irving, in Toronto, versus an above average Raptors team, the Celtics still managed to dig deep and find a way to put Demar DeRozan and co. away – behind a bevy of solid performances.
In terms of both team’s coaching, and management I think Cowherd hit the nail on the head. While the Ainge-Stevens duo doesn’t quite compare favorably to the stature of Belichick, it’s obvious they’re following the mastermind of the “Evil Empires” blueprint. Since 2007, Ainge has made his intentions obvious. Winning. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. Since then though, he’s developed into a shrewd businessman, focusing more on a long-term rebuild that will result in long-term success rather than cashing in all at once for a short window. A process that involves continuously trading players and draft picks to acquire better assets and more experienced veterans that can still mightily contribute.
In terms of both team’s respective coaches, they’re both incredibly intelligent and inventive play-callers, who wholeheartedly believe in complimentary play. In the case of the Patriots; Belichick has stressed the importance of a balanced offense, great blocking, a unit that can defend against the pass and the run, as well as a solid special teams. In Brad Stevens’ case, the emphasis on defense, rebounding, and unselfish offensive play creates more scoring opportunities, which in turn drives their offense.
For Coach Stevens, the rudimentary mantra that defense creates offense reigns supreme, as the C’s are currently holding their opponents to 42.6 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from three, both of which are the lowest in the league. They also rank third in total rebounds per game and are the fifth best team in terms of committing turnovers. So they’re getting stops, securing the rebounds, and very rarely turning the ball over. All of which help in concealing their shooting woes, ranking 27th in field goal percentage and 16th in three-point percentage.
Theis swats, Rozier swishes! pic.twitter.com/umVrE40Nzj
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 12, 2017
Beyond the poor shooting though, Stevens playbook and offensive concepts truly are a marvel to dissect. In terms of great actions, the Celtics have become masters of simultaneously using on-ball screens out of dribble pitches to create highly effective variations on the Spain-Pick ‘n Roll. Generally beginning with an off-ball screen between two perimeter players in the far left or right corner, the screened player runs to the ball handler (generally Horford) to receive the dribble pitch. Then the big man sets a quick screen for the new ball handler, on the defender who is recovering from the switch created by the initial off-ball screen. That way the ball handler has created complete separation beyond the three-point line, and the opposing big has to switch onto him and contest at the three-point line. If the Celtics can continue to implement innovative plays like that, utilizing their wealth of capable three-point shooters and athletes in tandem with clever screen-heavy concepts, they’re bound to get more wide open looks.
Ultimately though, the Celtics comparison to the Patriots ends abruptly at some of the more structural similarities. To cross that line into complete likeness, the Celtics have to actually start winning like the Patriots do, and have for more than 15 years now. And I’m afraid that even though the Celtics are on a remarkable 12 game winning streak, we’re still only 14 games into the season.
Borrowing the mantra of another NFL legend though, “When you have great players, then you get good players. Then you have a great organization, and you tell them ‘just win baby!'”
Just keep winning baby.