How the Celtics can improve before scrimmage vs. Suns

After a 165-day gap between games, Celtics basketball is finally back. And in their first on-court appearance inside the NBA bubble, Boston embodied the reality of a fourth-month hiatus.

Rust. A lot of rust.

And that’s perfectly okay, there’s plenty of time for this team to shake the rust off before their first seeding game, let alone the 2020 postseason. The greatest part about breaking how the Celtics can improve is that we have games to go off of that weren’t played in March.

So let’s identify the areas Boston showed the most rust and assess how worried we should be about it.

Communication

The Celtics are a small team dependant on their strong wing and guard play on the perimeter. While that bodes well for their offense, it leaves their defense vulnerable at times with a 6’8 center in Daniel Theis.

Their strength defensively comes from ball pressure and the players’ connectivity with each other, which allows them to execute jump switches and minimize mismatches better than most teams in the league.

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Connectivity is achieved through communication, and on Friday night against the Thunder, it was lacking. The Celtics gave up far too many easy layups and dunks off of late rotations and poor coverages on the pick and roll.

“We’re a fairly quiet group, generally, and I think that’s going to have to change, collectively, just because of this environment,” Brad Stevens said. “It’s so unique that the collective voice of a group is going to be important. I think everyone is going to have to make sure that they do their best to communicate and help each other through.

“I point back to the biggest thing we take away from this is we all heard Chris Paul dominate the game with his voice. That’s it. If we would have played the whole game, they would have won because he was dominating the game with his voice. They are going to be a tough out, just being out here and watching them in person and hearing them in person.”

I wouldn’t expect this issue to persist, especially with players like Marcus Smart anchoring the defense and being one of the more vocal players in the league. I’d even expect the Celtics to be obnoxiously loud against the Suns on Sunday just to hammer home that new normal right away.

Shot selection

You can practice your jumper as much as you want at home or in practice, but there’s nothing similar to hitting shots under pressure in an actual game. The Celtics, who’s offense relies heavily on hitting jumpers, struggled to score when those shots weren’t falling.

Jayson Tatum went 1-for-6 from the field, Gordon Hayward 3-for-7 and Marcus Smart went 3-for-8. The only starter who shot the ball well was Jaylen Brown.

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Now, this isn’t too alarming a development either. Shots will start falling as players get more game reps under their belt. But perhaps this could serve as a teaching moment for a team that sometimes settles for jumpers too often.

When your shot isn’t falling, it’s time to put your head down and go to the rim. From there you can either score in the paint to get yourself going, get fouled and figure out your stroke at the free-throw line or collapse the defense and create open looks for your teammates.

As the restart wears on I’d love to see players like Tatum, Hayward and Smart drive to the basket more when they have the ball. Further commitment to dribble penetration could take this offense to another level.

At the end of the day, this was Boston’s first time playing together since the season was shut down. While we pine over how the Celtics can improve before their next scrimmage, it’s important to remember the big picture: The Celtics are back and they’re most likely going to be fine.

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1 Comment

The Celtics' rookies produced a mixed bag in Boston's first scrimmage · July 25, 2020 at 5:36 pm

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