The Boston Celtics fell to yet another defeat during their January 5 contest against the San Antonio Spurs.
The performance typified the Celtics season, where shots didn’t fall, and the team failed to break down a stern defense. In a low-scoring affair, the last shot came down to Jaylen Brown, who had stolen the ball during an inbounds play from the Spurs, but he ultimately fluffed his lines and missed the game-winning layup.
You can’t blame Brown, though. This was a game that the Celtics should have and could have won had they played to their strengths. Instead, the team played in fear of the Spurs rim defense and settled for contested shots in the short mid-range area (between 4 and 14 feet from the basket).
When watching the game, it was clear the Celtics had moved away from running the offense through their big men, which paid dividends against the Phoenix Suns on December 31. Instead, Boston went back to their high pick-and-roll offense and relied on kick-outs to try and catch the Spurs in rotation – it didn’t work.
Against the Orlando Magic on January 2, it made sense that the Celtics didn’t utilize their passing bigs, primarily due to Robert Williams’ absence. Still, with Al Horford and Williams participating in the Spurs game, it would have made sense to go back to what worked just a few days earlier.
Jaylen Brown Wants to Play Through the Big’s
When tasked with leading the offense in Tatum’s absence, Brown struggled to become both a scorer and facilitator for the Celtics, with the latter being an under-developed aspect of the All-Stars game.
So, when the Celtics switched up their offense approach to provide the team with more creation from the mid-post, it made sense that both Brown’s and the team’s performances improved. It should come as no surprise, then, that Brown would like to see Udoka implement an offensive system that allows the team’s big men to initiate the offense consistently.
“Those guys are great playmakers, and depending on how teams guard us, that’s a way to get us some better looks and easier baskets. Rather everything having to be an isolation or everything having to be a tough drive and kick. We’ve got to stick with that at times. There are times we l. There ball in our hands, but playing through some of those guys is good for us, and good for the team,” Jaylen Brown said following the Celtics loss to the Spurs.
What Brown said makes a ton of sense. The Celtics had their best performance of the season when feeding off their big men, and previous Celtics teams found success with Horford operating as one of the team’s primary creators. Boston is currently operating without a true playmaker in their squad, sure, Marcus Smart has shown potential in developing into that guy, but right now, you can’t envision him being the lead guard on a championship team. It’s similar for Tatum too, he’s clearly the most talented player on the Celtics roster, but continually asking him to facilitate for others is slightly outside his optimal role.
Brown Wants More Offensive Movement
One of the most significant flaws with the 2020-21 Celtics was that they stood around the perimeter too often, simply watching the play unfold. Ime Udoka has tried to rectify that issue this year and is clearly asking the team to move the ball more. However, ball movement is only part of the problem because if players aren’t cutting or relocating, the offense still stagnates. Ball movement and player movement are two sides to the same coin, and right now, the Celtics only have half of the equation figured out.
During Brown’s post-game interview, he touched on the Celtics’ lack of player movement and noted how he believes innovative cuts, screens, or relocations could help solve some of the team’s offensive woes.
“I think that having an identity and a playstyle is important. We want to get easy baskets down the stretch, not tough ones. Some of the actions that we have put in, things that we went over, we’ve gotta emphasize those and make the game easier, rather than harder. Sometimes we can stand and watch a lot, and sometimes we can move and cut and get some easier baskets down the stretch. San Antonio did a good job of guarding and protecting the rim, but we gotta put pressure on them with our cutting and our off-ball actions instead of standing and watching,” Brown said.
Hopefully, if Udoka does make a change, it will be to run the offense through Horford and Williams while allowing the guards and wings to work off-ball and create high-quality shooting opportunities. Luckily, we won’t have to wait long for our answer, as the Celtics are back in action against the New York Knicks on December 6, in what will be the second night of a back-to-back.