One of the things that has made me a Celtics fan for more than half a century has been the way they play the game. Creating and exploiting the tiniest of advantages, eschewing the difficult shots by ever searching for a better look, and wielding edges seldom recognized as tide-turning weapons. This year I am especially excited at the players added who can leverage cerebral aspects to alter the game.
Dateline: September 24, 2012––6 days until the start of training camp!
The Celtics have always been innovators. Russell almost invented the blocked shot and certainly extended the technique to redirect the ball to teammates (as he did also with rebounds). Auerbach brought the concept of the sixth man to its apex as a momentum shifter. The Celtics applied transitions and running the court to wear down opponents and strike before defenses could get set up. Cousy’s misdirection, running the offense around and through Bird at forward, Cowens’ energy and long-range shooting redefining the center position, DJ and Ainge forming a backcourt without a traditional point guard, and the New and Original Big Three’s were all concepts either introduced or refined by the Celtics.
Part of my joy as a Celtics fan has been their propensity for countering turn-around, fall-away 25’ rainbow jump shots with a pair of humdrum layups. The best shot was not a sure-fire ESPN highlight but rather the easiest, most wide-open shot for whichever teammate the over-stressed defense failed to cover. Ball movement, player movement without the ball, and unselfish passing has been the hallmark of the Celtics basketball for most of the past sixty years. That’s why it has been so difficult for me to tolerate those periods when The Celtic Way lay fallow as some pretty talented individuals (Bob McAdoo, Antoine Walker) wore the green but didn’t play Green.
Just as the joining of Garnett with Rondo and Pierce augured well, so too am I excited to have Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger joining the cast this season. Facilitator and smart passer may not tumble off the ESPN commentator’s lips, but adding those skills to the Celtics’ mix warms the cockles of my heart (a strange place to have small, edible saltwater clams now that I think about it). Remember how the ball whizzed over, under, around, through, and across during the 2008 Championship run? Where did that go?
I have a theory that such a blurring attack requires both a team awareness and willingness, as well as a critical mass of participants. I don’t think there is a single exception to the willingness requirement (well Darko I don’t know about). Rondo, Garnett, Green, and Sullinger are all very good to great passers. Pierce, Courtney, Terry, and Joseph are adequate and eager proponents of ball movement. Only Bradley, Bass, and Wilcox of what are projected to be primary rotation players are not noted for their ability as facilitators—and none of them resist the idea, it just isn’t a strength. Move yourself, move the ball, flex the defense, change the passing angles, confuse the defensive assignments. It just takes one defensive mistake, or even just a slow adjustment, to present an opportunity; but that opportunity is negated if the offense is not both aware and ready to exploit it as it opens rather than after the opening.
This year I hope, and expect, to see much less stationary dribbling, and waiting endlessly for one player to run a slalom around his teammates trying to get open. Let’s get back to the opportunistic and manipulative legerdemain that has combined with sweat-drenched talent to vault Boston into the most storied franchise in NBA history. Hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em fast, hit ’em often, and hit them from every direction. Leave them bedazzled, befuddled, frustrated . . . and beaten.
Boston, and all points beyond