2014-15 Boston Celtics Playbook by John Zall
In his 2nd year at the helm of the Boston Celtics Brad Stevens aimed to instill a “Pace and Space” offense to his ball club. They got the Pace part down; the Celtics were 5th in the NBA averaging 98.40 possessions over 48 minutes according to NBA.com. The Celtics also do space the floor well and attempt almost 25 3-pointers per game. However, they make them at the 4th worst rate in the NBA; 32.7% from 3 per NBA.com. The floor spacing leads to ball movement and despite playing 22 different players this season the Boston Celtics assistant on an impressive 62.9% of their field goals ranking them 4th in the entire NBA. Their offensive efficiency still ranks in the bottom half of the NBA, scoring at a rate of 101.7 points per possession.
The fact that the Boston Celtics spacing and the way they stretch defenses looks like they have multiple shooters on the floor is an indictment of Brad Stevens and the brilliant coaching job he has done. The following video and diagram are some of the Celtics favorite sets they ran en route to earning the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
In the first set the Boston Celtics run their point guard, in this case Marcus Smart or Isaiah Thomas, off a double screen and then have the big on the opposite block “blast” up to the perimeter to set a ball screen. The 2 players setting the double screen flare out to the perimeter and create a spaced floor for the ball handler. After chasing the point guard through multiple screens the ball handler is usually able to get going down hill and ends up matched on the screeners defender, usually a big, who is late coming over to defend. If the timing is executed properly it is a very hard ball screen to defend.
In the second set one of the guards Iverson cuts over the top of both bigs who are positioned at the pinch post. The 3 will clear the side. Once Bradley or Smart curls over the top of the second screener the ball is entered into the opposite pinch post. The second screener then re screens for a wide open jump shot. In the first clip former Celtic Rajon Rondo ended up on the high side of the screen and was able to get a hand in the passing lane and ultimately a good close out opportunity. Usually if you play it this way, you’ll get a wide open layup which Smart had if he kept cutting. It is safe to assume that Rondo knew the play.
The third set is a Brad Stevens favorite that he loves to run at the end of games designed to get Avery Bradley, a 35% 3 point shooter, a wide open shot. The play starts with a down screen for the shooter who comes to perimeter to receive a pass. The point guard who passes then Iverson cuts over the top to get a return pass. The closest big at the pinch post then steps over to set a ball screen. Most NBA teams will either “ice’ or “down” a side ball screen, meaning they don’t allow the ball handler use the screen and drop the big who helps funnel the ball to the baseline. In this set this is exactly what the Celtics want, the screeners defender drops closer to the baseline on the dribble and the screener turns and screens for Bradley at the top of the key. There is no one guarding the screener so Bradley’s defender is left out to dry as he gets a wide open look.
In the following set the Boston Celtics use a pitch back to get a wide open shot for Bradley. A down screen is set for Bradley who comes to perimeter and gets a pass from the point guard whom he immediately pitches it back to. He then Iverson cuts over the top and curls off the second screen. This set is similar to the second set where the big at the pinch post then turns and re screens for Bradley who comes off reading the screen looking to shoot.
The next set is similar to the previous one in that it involves a pitch back. The initial down screen is set and the cut receives the pass and pitches it back to the point guard. He then cuts over the top but instead of going to an empty side on the floor, there is a shooter positioned in the corner. The cutter then sets the first of a stagger screen for him to come off of. The big always sets the second of the stagger screen so it discourages an easy switch by the defense. As you can see in the clips the defense usually switches the first of the staggers and has the screeners defender chase the cutter through.
In the sixth set the Boston Celtics show a play they like to run at the beginning of games. The point guard will hand off to the 2 on the wing and then set a “rip screen” for the 5 man to the block. The point guard then elevates and gets a “step up screen” from the 4 man and comes off the ball screen left to right. The 5 man sets a cross screen for a shooter positioned on the block and then gets a down screen from the 4 after he rolls out of the ball screen. The ending is what is commonly referred to as “America’s Play.” In the second play LeBron James makes an uncharacteristically stupid play guarding Marcus Smart and jumps on the other side of the screen trying to cheat the play. The rookie makes the right decision and rejects the screen and pulls up for a shot.
The seventh set has the point guard enter the ball to the pinch post and then set a screen for the big on the perimeter who shuffle cuts to the rim. The 4 man at the pinch post throws the ball back to the point guard and goes and sets a follow screen for him. When the 4 rolls to the rim, it draws a help defender from the opposite corner. The guard who’s man helped then elevates to the perimeter and gets a drag pass from the point guard. It works perfectly against Cleveland as Smart attacks a scramble and gets an easy shot in the lane.2014-15 Boston Celtics Playbook by John Zall
The last two sets are things the Boston Celtics run out of their secondary break. The first set the Celtics run two handoffs and follow screen designed to get the point guard the ball back in a ball screen going right to left on an empty side of the floor. In both cases the screeners are good shooters and it allows the Celtics optimal floor spacing. In the final set the Celtics run a simple action designed to get an easy look early in the shot clock. The ball handler dribbles the ball down on the right wing and clears the side by sending the other guard through. The big trailing steps over to set a ball screen and his defender drops to help defend the screen. In this scenario the guard either has a one on one matchup with a big going down hill or has a pass to the screener for a wide open shot. Usually when a team ices or downs a ball screen their is a guard on the perimeter so a smaller, quicker player is closing out on the shooter. In this set the big is the next closest guy on the perimeter so it is his defender that has to step over to contest on the shot.
Coach John Zall just completed his first season as an Assistant Coach at Division II Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH. This past season Franklin Pierce University won 20 games and advanced to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament. Zall arrived at Franklin Pierce after spending the past 3 seasons as the Associate Head Coach/Head JV Coach at O’Bryant High school in Roxbury, MA. During his tenure at O’Bryant the program improved from 4 wins to 12 wins and qualified for the MIAA State Tournament twice.
Coach Zall also has experience as an AAU Head Coach for the Boston Warriors. As Head Coach for the Warriors his team won the 2011 16U State Title and twice competed in AAU Nationals down in Orlando, FL. On top of being a student at Northeastern University, Zall was named Head Coach of the Men’s Club Basketball team for the 2012-13 season. During his lone season as Head Coach, Northeastern finished second in the Northeast Regional Tournament featuring colleges from throughout the East Coast. Coach Zall has also spent time as a Head Coach in the Bay State Games where his team won the Bronze Medal in 2012 and at various camps including: Five Star, Boston Celtics, NIKE, Franklin Pierce University, Hoop Group and The Elite 75.
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