Celtics' Goal is To Pick Opponents Apart

WALTHAM, Mass. – Study the offense of the Boston Celtics and you’ll quickly realize that setting picks is one of its most important aspects.

Study Kevin Garnett and you’ll realize that one of his greatest skills is setting picks.

The two have gone hand in hand for the past five seasons while Garnett has been wearing Boston across his chest. He has changed the culture of the team from the big-picture stuff like confidence and attitude to the small-picture stuff like pick-setting. Garnett’s lead-by-example approach continues to filter through to his teammates, both old and new, on a daily basis.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce

Kevin Garnett has spent much of his Celtics career freeing up his Paul Pierce and others for open shots.
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images

“KG shows us every day what we need to do,” said Chris Wilcox, who’s entering his second season with the Celtics. “So all we’ve got to do is just follow his lead and everything else will fall into place.”

That second sentence perfectly describes the Celtics’ offense. If every player on Boston’s roster can set screens like Garnett does, the ball is going to fall into its place – through the net – at a very high rate.

The Celtics added 10 new bodies to the team in the past few months and most of them are very adept at putting the ball through the basket at a high rate. Luckily for them, and maybe a curse for the rest of the league, most of Boston’s pickups are also blessed with the ability to set fantastic picks.

“This is maybe the best pick-setting team,” Doc Rivers said while comparing this team to the other eight he has coached in Boston. “Darko (Milicic) loves to pick. Kevin (Garnett) is the best picker in the league. Jared (Sullinger) is a good picker.”

The list goes on and on, and it doesn’t stop where you think it would. The Celtics even have great pickers playing in the backcourt thanks to the presence of new additions Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. Terry, in particular, has stood out to Rivers during the last month of practice.

“JET, surprisingly, if (he’s) not the best picker on the team, he’s right there with Kevin,” Rivers said of Terry. “He’s a small, but he loves setting picks. That’s what he did in Dallas with Nowitzki, so we’re going to do it here for him.”

That last statement tells us that as many picks as the Celtics ran in the past, we’re probably going to see even more of them this season.

Boston’s offense is predicated on its bigs freeing up its smalls for open shots. We’ve seen it for years with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and others coming off of screens and drilling wide open jumpers. Now, with players like Terry and Lee in the fold, the C’s have the opportunity to create mismatches when those guards set screens for big men like Garnett, Brandon Bass and Sullinger.

It’s a near guarantee that Boston’s big men will be setting more screens than having screens set for them. The good news is that this deep group of bigs understands that and relishes the role.

“We’ve got to set picks,” said Wilcox. “It’s going to open up everybody. We’ve got guys who can score, so our job is to get them open.”

Wilcox is telling us the true identity of this Celtics team. They’re selfless. They’re about ‘we,’ not, ‘me.’ The only thing these guys want to do is win a championship. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, including the inglorious act of setting screens.

“It’s about sacrifice,” said Terry. “It’s about giving up your body when you’re talking about setting picks. A lot of times you’re not going to benefit from it directly, but you’re going to get your teammate open, and that’s what Celtic basketball is all about.”

He hit the nail on the head: getting your teammate open. That’s the name of the game. The ability to make jumpers isn’t very useful unless those shooters can get open looks at the basket. From the sound of it, there won’t be many issues in Celticsland when it comes to making this happen.

When Rivers goes on record as calling this team possibly the best he’s ever had at setting screens, it’s a pretty big deal. Rivers is great with the media but he doesn’t typically sugarcoat things. He’s straight to the point and won’t tell you something that he wouldn’t stand by. Rivers didn’t shy away from his statement, and Terry, who has only been practicing with the Celtics for about a month, agrees with him… and then some.

“We’re the best pick-setting team in the league,” Terry proclaimed. “That’s the goal, not only with the best in KG, but 1 through 5, whoever steps on the floor. We’ve made it an emphasis.”

You heard it right here, NBA. Garnett and the Celtics are the best pick-setting team in the league. They’re going to pick, and pick, and pick, and in the process, they’re hoping to pick you apart.