In their 114-112 win over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday, the Boston Celtics assisted on 27 of their 44 field goals. It’s their sixth most in a game this season.
Assists don’t always paint an accurate picture of how a team moves the ball, but there’s no doubt Boston needs to improve and be more consistent in that facet of the game.
The Celtics are averaging 22.7 assists per game, which ranks them 24th in the league, but increasing that total by two would tie them with the New Orleans Pelicans for last place in the top 10.
As Inside The Celtics detailed, to a large extent, becoming a team that moves the ball more efficiently and does so with greater consistency is a problem the Celtics can solve internally.
One of the keys to doing this is to take advantage of Robert Williams’ abilities as a facilitator. As evidenced by Saturday’s win, it’s something that should be a staple of Boston’s offense.
This first piece also highlights one of the benefits of working in tandem with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The second clip illustrates how beautiful the Celtics offense looks when players are active off the ball and cut to the edge.
It was also great to see Tatum and Brown recording four assists apiece. The former averages 3.8 per game and the latter averages three per game. An easy way to get help is to take advantage of Robert Williams as a vertical threat.
Tatum gets great displays from Dennis Schroder and Williams on this Horns set. As he comes out of those two picks, Nikola Vucevic and Coby White focus on him as Williams dives to the edge. Tatum draws the Bulls cross to him, then throws the lob to Williams, who skis for the one-handed jam.
Tatum also connected with Williams on a third quarter alley-oop. It’s a simple but well-crafted game, where he comes off an Al Horford screen, attacks downhill, then draws Vucevic towards him and lob another lob at Williams.
Earlier in the frame, Tatum had Vucevic on him in a lag on the perimeter. He gives up the ball, but Brown quickly hands it back to him, and Tatum drops his shoulders and charges downhill. That draws in DeMar DeRozan, leaving Horford open for a corner three. The veteran big man is fighting beyond the arc this season, making just 28.1% of his threes, but he’s 9/19 (47.4%) from the right corner, according to NBA.com. Getting Horford over three from there and less over the break, where he is 28/113 (24.8%), will benefit him and the team.
Tatum’s fourth assist came early in the fourth quarter when he picked up the pace on transition, and Josh Richardson rolled out into the left corner. As an All-Star winger working to the basket, Tatum caught the eye of the surrounding three defenders, giving Richardson an open three.
As for Brown, he and Williams worked well together on a high screen and roll where the Boston big man slowly played his dive to the edge and Brown caught the attention of two Bulls defenders, leading to an open float for Williams, who shows his touch of the middle of the paint.
Brown also recorded an assist on a simple but smart play, coming off a screen from Williams, entering the teeth of the Chicago defense and feeding the ball to an open Josh Richardson for a three.
Boston’s ball movement was also boosted by Dennis Schroder. The veteran guard, best known for his goalscoring, provided eight assists in Saturday’s win. This matches his second plus as a Celtic.
In the play above, Schroder denies a potential screen from Williams and sneaks down the left side of the field. This forces Brown defender Ayo Dosunmu to keep an eye on his man and the ball, which helps Brown go through the back door for a reverse layup.
Midway through the fourth quarter, on another well-planned play, Schroder capitalized on Williams’ abilities as a threat on the edge. It starts with Williams setting a screen down for Schroder, who picks Tatum. The All-Star wing brings two defenders with him as he comes out of that screen, leaving Schroder open as he flies up the key. Schroder walks into the paint, prompting Bulls big man Tony Bradley to step in, signaling Schroder to throw the lob to Williams, who handles the rest.
Then, with less than 2:30 left in the match, Schroder enters the paint again, this time bringing Vucevic to him, and he connects with Williams on another alley-oop.
Schroder was also the one to deliver the ball to Brown on the out-of-bounds play from the baseline where the All-Star wing went through an elevator screen from Williams and Richardson, releasing it for an open jumper that put the Celtics at two with 1:06 remaining.
No matter how opposed or who their opponent misses, that’s how the Celtics need to play consistently. When Williams and Horford are introduced as entertainers, players cut at the rim, play with pace, determination, and attack downhill, Boston’s offense becomes much harder to stop. Especially compared to what it looks like when Tatum and Brown isolate themselves while everyone else stands and watches them do it.
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