Celtics

Has Celtics offense caught up with defense?

Has Celtics offense caught up with defense?

BOSTON – In the early days of training camp, it was pretty obvious that the Celtics defense had a much more effective, efficient flow in comparison to the offense.
 
And once they started playing games that mattered, the difference was even more pronounced.

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Boston’s defense is still ahead of the offense, but that gap is quickly closing.
 
And that makes the Celtics, owners of a league-best 19-4 record after their 108-97 win over Philadelphia on Thursday night, an even more dangerous team going forward.
 
Against the Sixers, the Celtics shot 50.6 percent from the field, which marked their third consecutive game where they connected on at least 50 percent of their shots. That’s a huge contrast to the first 20 games, which featured not a single game in which the Celtics made at least half of their field-goal attempts.
 
Boston also made 41.4 percent (12-for-29) of its 3-pointers, which marked the fourth consecutive game where the C’s connected on at least 40 percent of their 3s after doing it only four times through the first 19 games.
 
And yes, Boston’s defense delivered yet another strong game.
 
But it is an improving offense that makes an already promising future, look even brighter for the Celtics.
 
“We were playing the Boston Celtics, the best team in basketball,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown.
 
Here are five takeaways from the victory:


 
KYRIE IRVING

It didn’t take Irving leaving Cleveland for folks to realize just how lethal a scorer he is in the NBA. Still, the departure has created a slightly different narrative, one that now includes Irving making those around him better. The two-man game that he and Al Horford run together, has created major problems for teams. And as we saw against the Sixers, he has a great feel for when to take advantage of defenses that on a lot of nights, aren’t sure how to defend him. If you double-team or blitz him too soon, he’s capable of finding teammates. And if you don’t provide defensive help, he’ll crush with his near-unstoppable one-on-one moves. “No question,” said Horford. “He forces a couple people and yeah, there are a lot of opportunities that he creates. If teams don’t double him he’ll make them pay.”
 

MARCUS MORRIS
If not for Gordon Hayward’s season-ending ankle injury, we might be talking about Morris as a serious candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year. It’s no secret that he sees himself as a starter on this team. But to his credit, his production and impact aren't tied to whether he’s with the first or second unit. “I think that he was the difference for us early in the fourth when we couldn’t really score the ball,” said Horford. “He got us going, he hit some big baskets; it’s his ability to post, his mid-range and also he’s able to shoot the three. He made some timely shots.”
 

AL HORFORD
Speaking of Horford, he continues to play at an All-Star level with fewer peaks and valleys statistically this season. He was about as efficient as we’ve seen him this season, tallying 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting to go with eight rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. “Horford probably doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is offensively,” Philadelphia’s J.J. Redick told reporters after the game. “One of the reasons is because of the way he pops and sort of the problems that presents; whether that’s shooting threes, or attacking closeouts, or catching and running into another pick and roll… As good as Kyrie is offensively, it’s almost like Horford is the sort of the hub of everything they do – and because he’s so versatile, it creates all sorts of issues.”
 

BENCH STAYS POSITIVE
Boston’s reserve unit had varying levels of success in terms of shooting the ball against the Sixers, ranging from Morris and his 17 points, to Semi Ojeleye, who missed his lone field goal attempt. That said, all five players off the Celtics bench – Morris, Ojeleye, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis – had moments of solid play for Boston. In fact, each of them had a positive plus/minus when they were on the floor against the Sixers, ranging from Ojeyle and Theis who were each +1, to Marcus Smart who had a team-best plus/minus of +15.
 


ROOKIE DEFENDERS
There has been a lot of talk about how Boston’s rookies have played with a level of maturity that’s well, unusual. Making their play all that more uncommon is that their greatest impact, for the most part, comes on defense. Jayson Tatum has been an impressive offensive force for the Celtics. But his defense has been pretty special, too. In fact, Tatum’s defensive rating of 98.5 is tops among all NBA rookies to log at least 10 minutes per game and appear in at least 10 games this season. He’s not alone when it comes to defensive standouts among Celtics rookies. Theis is third on that list with a 99.5 defensive rating and second-round pick Semi Ojeleye is fifth with a defensive rating of 100.2.


 

Curran: Ripple effect of selecting Williams should benefit Horford

Curran: Ripple effect of selecting Williams should benefit Horford

The most intriguing question coming out of the NBA draft is just what form of human torture Bill Belichick would devise if one of his players did what Terry Rozier did while the C’s were on the clock Thursday night.

First, you have to suspend disbelief and imagine that Belichick would be able to navigate FaceTime. Then keep disbelief suspended and imagine he’d take that call from, say, Joe Thuney or Eric Rowe on the day of the draft, never mind when the Patriots were on the clock.

Then, if Belichick did take the call and Joe or Eric were able to wheedle out info and surreptitiously broadcast it for the giggling pleasure of nearby nerds and a live online audience, I predict things would go badly for Joe/Eric.

Like, you’d find an arm in Wrentham. An ear in Westerly. A couple of toes in Windham. An eye and a tongue floating in a jar off of Gay Head. Nasty stuff.

And there’d be a stern conversation with the surviving members of the team about the dangers of social media.

Terry Rozier doesn’t have to worry about that though. Nor does he – for now – have to worry about being dealt.

Because the Celtics didn’t do a damn thing on Thursday night but let the draft come to them. And when it did, they got what they needed: an offensively impotent, vine-armed center who can punch stuff into the luxury suites with regularity. That’s Robert Williams. 

There really aren’t a lot of need needs on this Celtics team right now. Offensively, they have multiple guys who can create their own shot – Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Rozier and Gordon Hayward. They share the ball, they are dangerous enough from 3. What they didn’t have – and what Williams could possibly be – is a pick-and-roll finisher at the rim.

Al Horford can do that, but he’ll just as often look to kick to the corner after rolling into the middle of the lane as he will look to finish. Which is great. Horford’s the control tower and teams can’t sag and double without the fear Horford will find whoever’s being left alone. But Horford also just turned 32. His days of rolling and picking a lob out from between the banners are gone (if they ever existed).

Williams can do that. He was described during the draft on ESPN as “the best lob catcher in this draft” and the comparisons to Houston’s Clint Capela have been frequent. So frequent that when a writer for the Washington Times made the link after a pre-draft visit with the Wizards, Williams said, “I knew you were going to say that, bro. I watched him, he’s a great player. But everybody’s different. You can’t compare him to me.”

Whether it’s scoring as the roll man or just finishing off drop-downs when wings penetrate and dish, Williams will give the C’s way more explosiveness than they had with Horford and Greg Monroe.

Defensively, Williams – or at least the image of Williams at his best – that’s where Horford will really be helped. There were times later in the postseason where Horford – after getting pounding with Joel Embiid’s prodigious posterior for a half-hour or getting bounced around by Tristan Thompson on the defensive glass – looked gassed. And played gassed. The load was too much to sustain.

Williams, 6-10 with a 7-5 wingspan, ought to be able to help there almost immediately.

"He was a player that we liked coming into this draft process,” Danny Ainge said Thursday night. “He's a rim protector and rebounder, and a guy who can play above the rim on both ends of the court. We don't have much of that. We have a little bit of that, but not what he can do. So his abilities to protect the rim and rebound and run the floor, and I think, are some of his greatest traits and uses."

The one negative “trait” Williams allegedly possesses is an inconsistent motor. Which is a diplomatic way of saying he doesn’t try hard. It’s the main (lone?) reason he was available at 27 and not gone as a lottery pick.

Friday morning, after the Celtics weren’t able to round Williams up for a conference call with local media, the cluck-clucking picked up steam.

If it’s all true, it’s all true. But that doesn’t mean that can’t change. The kid turned 20 in October. One would think there’s still some time for growth. Especially when he’s got the confirmation that teams didn’t love the way he did his business by passing on him. Over and over and over and costing him cash along the way.

This is where Horford can really make an impact. For all the times on-court Al has been assailed with “Is that all there is…” laments, nobody ever complains about his work ethic or leadership.

And while it isn’t necessarily Horford’s job to make Williams better and himself expendable, Horford doesn’t seem the type who’d shy from mentoring a kid. Especially if the kid's presence is going to make Horford's life easier. 

“He won’t have any better role models than the guys in front of him,” Brad Stevens said of Williams.

Thursday night worked out perfectly for the Celtics. They resisted all temptations to be the life of the party by making some outrageous move. They simply added a player who – if all works positively – will be really useful and pretty solid. They’ll put him in a stable situation with a well-defined role. And if it doesn’t work out, there will be no, “WHY DIDN’T THEY (fill in the contrived outrage)?!?!?!”

What else do you want at 27?

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The next Clint Capela? Plenty of parallels with Robert Williams

The next Clint Capela? Plenty of parallels with Robert Williams

BOSTON – On a draft night when there was very little drama, intrigue or surprises to speak of, the Celtics landing Texas A&M’s Robert Williams certainly qualifies as an unexpected pairing.

Williams was seen by most as a potential lottery pick (top 14). who might slip into the late teens.

But all the way to 27?

To have such a precipitous fall, there are likely factors weighed by NBA teams that passed on him that go beyond his ability.

Of greater concern for the Celtics, is how good can he be in Boston?

As far as the floor for him as a player, you can go in a lot of directions, from Stromile Swift, who was one of the bigger draft busts in recent memory, to former Celtic Amir Johnson, who has been a solid-but-not-spectacular pro for more than a decade.

In looking at current NBA players who seem very similar to where Williams is now, Houston’s Clint Capela in many ways mirrored the promise and potential problems that many see in the 6-foot-10, 241-pound Williams.

Here’s a look at five traits that give the Celtics reason to be cautiously optimistic that they may have landed this draft’s version of Capela:

Late first-round picks

Clint Capela was considered one of the best athletes to ever come to the NBA, from Europe. Despite some impressive physical traits, he slid down the board before ultimately landing with the Houston Rockets, who selected him with the 25th pick in 2014. Williams is talked about in a similar vein when it comes to having elite athleticism. And, like Capela, he, too, saw his stock take a draft-night dip to where he was finally scooped up by the Celtics at 27.

Rim-runners

The term “rim-runners” is relatively new to the basketball lexicon, but it has been around for a while and it really does matter. Players who can run the floor effectively not only create shot attempts for themselves, but also puts stress on a defense that allows the teammates of elite rim-runners to get great looks at the basket. As talented as James Harden and Chris Paul are, they benefit from Capela’s ability to get up court in a hurry. Williams has a similar skill to his game, but wasn’t surrounded by the type of quality shooters to which that strength of running the floor was on display enough. In Boston, he’ll make the guys around him better offensively by doing what he does best and that’s run the floor and, when given the opportunity, play above the rim.

Defensive Mindset

Since coming into the NBA, Capela has been a stabilizing force for a Houston team that has steadily improved collectively on defense. He has great timing, above-average length, and instincts at that end of the floor that has served him well. His 1.9 blocks per game last season ranked fourth in the NBA. Williams comes into the NBA with similar potential at that end of the floor. In both his seasons at Texas A&M, Williams was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, he led the SEC in rebounds (9.2) and was second in blocked shots (2.6 per game), despite playing just 25.6 minutes per game.

Bad free-throw shooters

When you fall as far in the first round as Capela and Williams, you know there are some warts to their overall game. The one thing both share unequivocally is a knack for not making free throws. Capela is a career 48.2 percent shooter from the free-throw line, but the good news for Rockets fans is he made a career-best 56 percent last season and has actually improved from the line every year he has been in the NBA. Williams has been just as woeful from the line. In his two seasons at Texas A&M, he shot 54.1 percent from the line, but that included last season when he connected on just 47.1 percent of his free throws.

Established, successful franchises

When the Rockets drafted Capela, they were coming off a 54-win season with a roster that included Harden, Chandler Parsons (when he was healthy), Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin (who like Parsons, was healthy then). So, he knew early on that by playing to his strengths – rebounding, defense, running the floor – he would be a contributor in a year or two. Williams is walking into a similar situation. Boston has established veterans ahead of him in the frontcourt, but the strengths of his game – rebounding, defense and running the floor – provides an element that Boston won’t get from anyone else. And by playing to his strengths, he’ll only enhance the success of a team that has already built to contend for an NBA title this season.

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