NBA playoffs 2022 — How the Boston Celtics discovered the blueprint that changed their season

When the Boston Celtics arrived at Washington’s Capital One Enviornment to tackle the Wizards for a matinee on Jan. 23, there was no indication it could function the turning level of Boston’s tumultuous season.

The Celtics had been coming off one in every of their most dispiriting losses of the season, blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead at dwelling to the Portland Path Blazers, who have been with out star level guard Damian Lillard.

Jayson Tatum had missed 18 consecutive 3-point photographs over a four-game stretch. The workforce’s offense had hovered across the NBA’s backside 10. And the Celtics had fallen to 23-24 and tenth place within the Jap Convention — a half-game forward of the New York Knicks for the ultimate spot within the play-in event.

Greater than midway via this season, Boston appeared headed for a short stint within the playoffs — if it made it there in any respect.

Then got here the 116-87 demolition of the Wizards, which noticed Tatum rating 51 and elevate Boston again to .500 on the season. Within the locker room afterward, Marcus Good sensed change was afoot.

“After that game, we just had this mentality and mindset and this sense of urgency that we can feel that a change was starting,” Good says. “Once that got rolling, and we got on the right track, it was just smooth sailing from there.”

Since that second, the Celtics have reworked into arguably the NBA’s greatest workforce, ending the common season with the league’s high report (28-7), offense (120.2 factors per 100 possessions) and protection (104.8).

And, after sweeping Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets within the first spherical of the playoffs, Boston has an opportunity to tie its East semifinal showdown with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks with a street win in Sport 4 on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

However one of many extra exceptional midseason turnarounds in NBA historical past did not really start on Jan. 23. It started lengthy earlier than the outcomes confirmed on the court docket.

“I don’t think,” Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens stated, “that anybody would have guessed that it was gonna take off like it did.”

How Boston discovers its blueprint

The Celtics’ low level got here on Nov. 1, simply seven video games into the season. After blowing a 14-point result in the Chicago Bulls, who outscored the Celtics 39-11 within the last body, Good known as out Boston’s celebrity wing tandem.

“Every team knows we’re trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen,” Good informed reporters postgame. “Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball.”

The second was a mile-marker on a marketing campaign — helmed by a trio of gifted perimeter gamers which have taken half in nicely north of fifty playoff video games for Boston — that appeared destined to disappoint for a second straight season.

As a substitute, it turned a distant reminder of the turnaround — and what ultimately began clicking for Boston.

“We have a lot of great guys on the team, so it was just a matter of figuring out how to play together,” Grant Williams says. “Same thing with Ime [Udoka, who is a] first-year head coach, so all just learning how to establish ourselves not only in the league, but also establishing the blueprint the Celtics want to have.

“As we have grown, we all know precisely what we would like and precisely what we’re.”



Stephen A. Smith agrees with the Celtics that Jrue Holiday fouled Marcus Smart in the act of shooting, while Jalen Rose won’t put Boston’s loss on the officials.

Some of the Celtics’ early woes were out of their control. Brown and Al Horford missed chunks of training camp, and Horford missed time in December after he entered the league’s health and safety protocols. Smart, for his part, entered protocols in January and missed six games.

Boston also reversed its poor shooting luck. While Boston was 16th in the league in Second Spectrum’s quantified shot probability through Jan. 22, it showed up in some particularly ugly losses, like when the Celtics had the single worst catch-and-shoot performance in Second Spectrum’s history (since 2013) in a loss to the LA Clippers in December. Boston leapt to second in the league in quantified shot probability beginning with that win in Washington through the regular season.

The Celtics also found better fits for Udoka’s preferred system.

The franchise had used part of its trade exception to land Josh Richardson in the offseason, and convinced Dennis Schroder to take a massive pay cut to play a role off the bench. Both, however, are used to holding the ball, which played right into the natural tendencies of both Tatum and Brown that Udoka was hoping to change.

Schroder and Richardson were dealt at the deadline — Schroder, Enes Freedom and Bruno Fernando for Daniel Theis and Richardson and Romeo Langford for Derrick White.

The moves paid immediate dividends, particularly in helping Udoka implement the free-flowing offense he’s trumpeted since arriving last summer.

Earlier than the commerce deadline, Boston ranked nineteenth within the NBA in assists per recreation, and 49.4% of their subject targets got here off passes, which ranked 18th. After it, Boston rose to seventh in each classes.

“If I could have picked the guy who would have been the perfect guy to come in and complement our group, it’s [White],” Udoka says.

“He’s a better offensive player than J-Rich, and a much better defender than Dennis, so you kind of get those guys combined into one.”

Boston’s beginning lineup of Good, Brown, Tatum, Horford and Robert Williams III had been elite. By bringing in White, and making extra time for Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard off the bench, the Celtics had an hermetic eight-man rotation that match Udoka’s recreation plan.

“Early on in the year, we had guys trying to figure out new roles,” Good says. “We experimented with new roles, new guys, new faces. It was a lot. [Now] the connectivity is showing.”

Tatum ascends, and Good finds his true position

It is easy to speak about ephemeral issues like connectivity, teamwork and togetherness. However none of these will win video games if they don’t seem to be paired with expertise.

“The biggest thing to happen in the NBA the last two months,” an Jap Convention govt stated not too long ago, “was Jayson Tatum becoming the player the world thought he already was.”

Even after some particularly tough taking pictures over the primary half, Tatum completed the season averaging 26.9 factors, 8.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Extra importantly, although, was his progress as a passer and playmaker over the season’s second half.

His help numbers shot up by practically one per recreation after the All-Star break, and even earlier within the season, Udoka leaned into Tatum as the first ball handler when Good and Brown left the court docket. Boston outscored opponents by 12.2 factors per 100 possessions with him on the court docket, and Good and Brown off.

“The numbers are off the chart with him as a handler,” Udoka stated. “When you see what he is — with his size, and vision and all that — to me it’s a no-brainer.”

The ultimate piece of Boston’s transformation has been Good taking on because the workforce’s place to begin guard. It is a position Good has, for years, had begged to play.

“I’m just happy that I finally get to be put in a position I’m great at,” Good says. “Not saying that the other positions I was in, I wasn’t good. It was just … I was like a Swiss Army knife, and it was like I had no true role on the team. I was just doing a little bit of everything.”

Regardless of being drafted in 2014 as some extent guard out of Oklahoma State, he has performed alongside a collection of different level guards, from Isaiah Thomas to Terry Rozier to Kyrie Irving to Kemba Walker. However as soon as Walker was traded for Horford final summer time, there was no selection however at hand the keys to Good.

Udoka, although, believed Good might be simply the participant he wanted to run his offense. He stated that in contrast to different guards who’ve performed with Tatum and Brown through the years, Good is a pass-first ground basic.

“Marcus will do one of his crazy-ass passes, and he’s like, ‘I got you,'” Udoka says, elevating his hand to imitate Good apologizing for a foul play. “It’s like a Manu [Ginobili] situation with [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich].

“You gotta let him be who he’s and dwell with a number of the craziness … what you do is belief Marcus.”

A great defense becomes elite

Even when the Celtics were flailing in the opening months of the season, they ranked fifth in defensive rating. And, after trading for White and moving on from Schroder, Boston’s top seven players — Smart, Brown, Tatum, Horford, Robert Williams III, White and Grant Williams — are all plus defenders.

And, with all of them standing at least 6-foot-4, and two of them (Horford and Williams) being centers, the Celtics can expect to have a size advantage at virtually every position when any combination of those seven are on the court together.

That translated to Boston being 4.6 factors per 100 possessions higher defensively than the second-place Miami Warmth from Jan. 23 via the top of the season — the identical margin between the Warmth and the Minnesota Timberwolves in 18th.

“Suffocating,” Grant Williams stated, when requested to explain Boston’s protection.

“If you ask the players on other teams, that’s how they would describe it, especially when everyone is locked in, everyone is doing their own job. … Making teams play against us in the half court. That’s where our strength is.”

The Celtics spent the primary spherical making life depressing for Durant, holding him underneath 40% taking pictures for a collection for the third time in his profession. They pressured Giannis Antetokounmpo into 18-for-52 taking pictures within the first two video games of the East semifinals. Any time Boston talks about its protection, physicality is repeatedly talked about as a core tenet — and the Celtics have utilized that with gusto in these playoffs.

It is a far cry from how Boston appeared when it was steamrolled in 5 video games by the Nets within the first spherical final yr.

“This is probably the best defensive team that I’ve been on,” White stated. “Just having guys out there that are connected, can guard multiple positions. That’s just the way the NBA is nowadays. You need guys to be able to do that.”

It is a large facet of the system that has Boston nonetheless dreaming of lifting championship banner No. 18 to the TD Backyard rafters.

“I hope that everybody’s really enjoying competing together because I think that we have a group that is moving in one direction — no drama,” Stevens says, “and we got to keep it that way.

“I understand how fragile it’s. … so I imagine that when the brightest lights are on, we’re gonna be exhausting to beat.”

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