Another step closer: 6 Takeaways from Celtics/Kings

Another step closer: 6 Takeaways from Celtics/Kings

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The Boston Celtics have nothing left to play for. Right now, every game is about testing out stuff we haven’t seen in a while and finding out what works and what needs to be discarded. There’s no real need to play with urgency. And there’s certainly no reason to risk injury. As such, there’s less to take away from each game — especially if I’m trying not to re-hash stuff we’ve already looked at ad nauseam.

So, for the final few games, I’ll vary the takeaways. If there’s enough, we’ll do 10. If there’s not, there will be less. Let’s jump in.

#1 Hauser’s tough night

1-of-18. Woof. That’s a tough one. Sam Hauser had what could potentially be the worst shooting night of his career. The process on his shots was good, but the end result just wasn’t there. Of course, his struggles were accentuated by a bigger offensive role, allowing him to get more shots up.

“I almost look at this like it’s a good thing,” Payton Pritchard told CelticsBlog’s Jack Simone during his post-game press conference. “Sam is, to me, the best catch-and-shoot shooter in the league. And this is going to come back around. And he could go 10-for-10. We got a win with hi missing as much as he did. If he shoots normally, this is probably a 20-point win. So, this is probably a good sign because in the next couple of games, he’s probably going to be on fire.”

As the game wore on, Hauser started to force the issue a little bit, which undoubtedly inflated his attempts. The hope now will be that his struggles won’t affect his confidence and that he will keep the shooters mentality and have a short memory.

In Hauser’s defense, he didn’t let his scoring struggles hurt the other areas of his game. He played some solid defense, was a force on the boards and flashed some upside when attacking closeouts. There’s no doubt Hauser will need to avoid having more nights like this, but overall, there’s no major reason to be concerned. Everybody has tough shooting nights. This was just tougher than most.

#2 Jrue steps up

With Jaylen Brown and Derrick White both out of the rotation with injuries, Jrue Holiday stepped into a bigger offensive role. He dictated play on offense, assumed the role of primary playmaker, hit some tough shots and executed well on defense.

This was my favorite bucket from Holiday. He used the contact to create separation on his step-back, used the space to square his body, and then let the shot fly. Unfortunately, his feet were on the line, so the bucket only counted for two. Nevertheless, it was a solid reminder of what Holiday can do when tasked with being more aggressive on offense.

And this was my favorite dime from Holiday. His ability to read the offense and see over the defense to spot Jayson Tatum’s cut — and then the skill to make the swing pass — is another reason why Holiday is such an integral part of the Celtics overall system.

Out of everyone on the roster, Holiday is arguably making the biggest sacrifice in terms of his role, usage, and output. Yet, plays like the ones above are a great way of reminding ourselves that if he’s needed, he can step up in an instant and be a reliable option on both sides of the floor.

#3 Cold night from deep

It wasn’t just Hauser that struggled from deep. The entire Celtics roster had a tough night. As a unit, Boston went 12-of-44 from deep, a 27.3% conversion rate on the perimeter. Tatum was 1-of-6. Al Horford was 1-of-5. Hauser was 1-of-13. Holiday was 0-of-2. You get the picture.

Nevertheless, Boston’s defense and their willingness to attack the rim ensured their offense continued clicking. Of course, the Sacramento Kings couldn’t start sagging off shooters, either — that’s not how things work. This Celtics team is too talented. They can snap out of slumps in an instant, and then, if you’re not careful, they’re up by 30 in a seven-minute span.

#4 More rolls than pops

This is likely due to the limited success Boston had from the perimeter, but it certainly felt like screeners were rolling to the rim with more consistency than what we’ve seen this season. According to Synergy, Kristaps Porzingis operates as a roller on 32.5% of his pick-and-roll possession. He slips another 12.2%. The rest is with him popping onto the perimeter.

Yet, against the Kings, Porzingis was operating out of the short-roll. He was getting deep into the paint after setting screens. He wasn’t the only one, either. Jayson Tatum had some great possessions as a roller. And we saw Horford and Holiday both fill that role throughout the game, too.

Above is Porzignis off a slip screen.

And above is Tatum rolling off a screen for an easy bucket.

It felt like the Kings were looking to pressure the perimeter and play with high pick-up points. So, it made sense that Boston looked to counter with slips and hard rolls out of screening actions. Of course, this was likely some experimentation, too, as Joe Mazzulla looks to gather as much data on potential in-game tweaks as possible.

Nevertheless, the increased amount of rolls vs. pops on screening actions stood out to me. It felt prominent.

#5 Experimenting with Zone

Talking of experimentation, we saw a healthy dose of Zone defense against Sacramento. Some of it looked like the 2-1-2 spy we’ve seen the team run this season, while some looked like a 2-3 zone.

As has been the case all season, the Celtics had some good and some bad possessions when leaning into a zone defense. Still, every time we see it, the execution seems to get a little bit better. Now is the perfect time to run this defensive system for significant stretches, after all, the games don’t matter right now. Everything is about fine-tuning and gathering data.

#6 Was it a foul?

Final play of the game. The Sacramento Kings need a bucket, if they get it, it’s an important win for them.

With milliseconds on the clock, Svi Mykhailiuk appears to foul when going up for a defensive rebound. The Kings coaching staff were incredibly animated on the sidelines. However, the refs didn’t call it and Xavier Tillman ended the game with his first game-winner for Boston.

The question is, should the whistle have been blown? I’ll leave you to debate that in the comments section.

Looking ahead

The Celtics are back in action against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday. I’m hoping for some more experimenting, some more player rotation and for some new wrinkles that we can explore in the takeaways. Catch you all on Monday morning.



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