The Boston Celtics have played two of their four preseason games in preparation for their season opener in Cleveland on Oct. 17. The first against the Charlotte Hornets, followed by the upstart Philadelphia 76ers, which both resulted in convincing victories for the Celtics.
After thoroughly studying those two games, here are five details that I took away from their first two matchups.
- A similar defensive formula
Despite the drastic loss in defensively-abled bodies like Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, Brad Stevens obviously has no intentions of changing his barebones defensive concepts. Which, at their core, revolves around the perimeter defenders forcing players away from high post ball handlers, causing missed actions and, ideally, turnovers. In the second preseason game against the Sixers, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart created several key turnovers doing exactly that, translating them into fast break excellence. If the Celtics can continue that trend deep into the playoffs, and create turnovers with their intensity away from the ball, rather than rely on their “wealth” of on-ball defenders — I can imagine a defense far less abysmal than the one I see on paper.
2. All new faces, same old offensive concepts
The Celtics offense under Brad Stevens has never been that beautiful, conceptually speaking. As opposed to an offense layered with various pick n’ roll sets, or highly layered variations on motion, it generally relies on two ideas; driving in than kicking it out and actions initiated from the high post. In recent years, the three-point line has been a dangerous weapon for Stevens’ Celtics. Not because it’s a weapon that they can consistently rely on, but because of how much the threat of the three-point shot expands their offensive options. With one well-placed on-ball screen for the ball handler and one off-ball screen, the C’s can create a driving lane, collapse the defense thanks to Kyrie Irving or Hayward’s gravity, then kick it out while the defense is recovering for an even better shot.
Adversely, initiating an offensive action with a pass from the high post has become a staple for the Celtics since Al Horford’s arrival. The Celtics have never been very enamored with the pick n’ roll, seldom using it unless they’re trying to create an open shot for their point guard. However, thanks to Horford’s savvy passing and court awareness, the C’s can find an array of looks at the rim through pocket passes down court, or dribble pitches up top. Expect Irving and Horford to create a deadly duo in these kinds of situations. Not to mention the host of actions that can be run directly out of a well-executed dribble pitch, blending the high post concepts with their tendency to drive in and kick out to open shooters.
3. Hayward’s potential at point guard
This may seem counterproductive to the idea that the Celtics don’t include too many over complex pick n’ roll concepts into their offense, but Hayward is a remarkably skilled pocket passer. I can’t be the only one watching and imagining how dangerous a small pick n’ roll between Hayward and Irving could be.
4. Marcus Smart’s Offensive Consistency
Every Celtics fan knows Smart. Every Celtics fan has probably had a love-hate relationship with Smart too. For Beantown, he really is the ultimate “No, no, no — yes, yes, yes” guy though. Defensively, he was a revelation for the C’s last year, helping Avery Bradley hide Isaiah Thomas’ defensive woes, while even giving backcourts like the Splash Brothers their fair share of problems. Offensively though, he was less than stellar, providing the Celtics with brief moments of brilliance, engulfed in a general shroud of mediocrity. Toward the end of the postseason though, it became more and more apparent that his three-point shooting had finally become consistently reliable. Culminating in a 27 point performance against the Cavaliers, where he made seven of his ten shots from beyond the arch. Throughout the preseason, I’ve found that his shooting does seem to have improved. If Smart can continue to improve, and serve as a credible and consistent three-point threat for the Celtics to extend their offense – than the C’s can only get improve.
5. Daniel Theis’ Presence on the Boards
In all honesty, I didn’t expect anything of notoriety from Daniel Theis upon learning of his signing. What I’ve seen over the last two games has pleasantly surprised me though. Theis’ activity on the offensive boards has been a Godsend for the Celtics, who have infamously struggled in that department in recent years. In his exhibition against Charlotte, it felt like missed shot after missed shot was rectified by his energy, crashing the glass and creating second-chance opportunities for the Celtics. If he can continue slamming home two-handed jams after pulling down the offensive rebound, then he’ll definitely earn valuable minutes off the bench for the C’s.
Daniel Theis with the putback jam off the bench for the #Celtics!
— Blood Runs Green ☘ (@BloodRunsGreen_) October 3, 2017
The Celtics are back on the court Monday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m. against the 76ers at home.