Celtics Capture Battle in the North with Downhill Attack
Celtics head coach Ime Udoka has been encouraging his team to get downhill and attack the basket more often in order to create more scoring chances both inside the paint and around the perimeter.
On Sunday night in Toronto, the C’s gave him exactly what he was looking for and it paid off in the form of a 109-97 win at Scotiabank Arena.
Boston combatted the Raptors’ physical, help defense by consistently driving to the hoop, which resulted in layup looks, drive-and-kick 3-point opportunities, and plenty of trips to the free-throw line.
The Celtics assisted on 24 of their 34 field-goal makes, with exactly two-thirds of those dishes being served up by Jayson Tatum (season-high 10 assists) and Marcus Smart (six assists). And most of those assists came off of drives.
“I mentioned a few games ago against Brooklyn, I felt like we settled a lot for jump shots early in the game,” Udoka said, referencing Wednesday’s 123-104 loss to the Nets. “We want the 3s to come from penetration-and-kick more so than isolation dribbles and shooting over contested hands. When we got good guys setting screens, like Enes (Kanter), guys can get free and get downhill. And then, on the kick-out, if you don't have the initial shot, just more penetrate-and-kick. And I felt like we were doing that all night (against Toronto).”
By penetrating and collapsing Toronto’s defense, Boston was also able to draw an abundance of contact around the basket. Eight different Celtics players made multiple trips to the free-throw line, where they shot 29-of-31 as a team.
It was a much different feel from their home opener against the Raptors on Oct. 22 when they made a season-low 11 trips to the free-throw line while suffering a 32-point defeat.
Sunday's game featured far less isolation and as a result, the scoring was spread evenly across the board. Boston saw five different players score between 15 and 21 points and amazingly, Tatum wasn’t one of them.
Tatum’s shots weren’t falling early, so he settled into more of a facilitation role and wound up with two more assists than points (eight). However, Udoka liked seeing that side of Tatum emerge because it enabled other guys to get more involved in the scoring.
“He's just gotta, at times, be the guy that's gonna bait guys out there, be the decoy to some extent, and draw that crowd,” Udoka said of Tatum. “And you saw everybody else pretty much ate off of him tonight. So credit to him for playing the right way, not getting frustrated, and then sticking with it.”
Playing the right way meant creating wide-open looks for his teammates, many of which resulted either in baskets or trips to the free-throw line.
“He's been doing a good job of really finding guys and we have to reward him for that,” said Smart, who finished with a team-high 21 points. “That's only going to open up things for him and Jaylen (Brown) later in games when we and other players, myself included, can knock down those shots. For me, he just kept telling me, 'I'm going to continue to pass you the ball, just shoot it with confidence.'”
Tatum’s teammates followed his lead, continuing to drive-and-kick, drive-and-kick until the best scoring opportunity was created.
Josh Richardson, who finished with 18 points off the bench, hopes that the C’s continue to follow such an offensive model.
“The guys did a good job of moving the ball, driving it because, against a team like them, you’ve got to be aggressive to the paint,” said the veteran wing. "And we’ve got to carry that over going forward because I think we got a lot of good looks.”