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The Run: Celtics Playing Bigs Who Don’t Post-Up

The Boston Celtics feature a spread attack that almost completely ignores posting players up.

Chicago Bulls v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

On NBA playoff rosters, there are 43 players who scored 1,000 points during the regular season. The Boston Celtics are the only team to have a single thousand-point scorer. That is, of course, Isaiah Thomas who is the match, kindling, and lighter fluid of the Celtics offensive firepower. Game 1 of their series against the Bulls was no exception as Thomas contributed a heroic 33 points on 18 field goal attempts. However, the Celtics still lost, 106-102.

It appears Thomas may need help in these playoffs for numerous reasons. That help may need to come as soon as Game 2 at Boston— 7 pm CST, on TNT. An unfortunate truth is that Boston is not systemically programmed for substantial contributions elsewhere. This is because the Celtics offensive firepower is triggered by starting most possessions spread around a Thomas ball-screen, dribble handoff, or simple isolation. Sets usually start (and sometimes finish) like this:

As you can see there, the Celtics two bigs are often placed in one of two places— the perimeter and/or dunker spots. Al Horford and Kelly Olynyk are often used in the perimeter spot because they can shoot or create off the dribble, as Horford does here.

Amir Johnson is often used in the roving baseline dunker spot to clean up misses or receive a drop off pass from a driver.

Using the bigs in this way makes these players at best a secondary options to score. In general, when bigs are used as primary options in the offense it is most typical to receive a simple post-up. The Celtics shot out of the post-up on 442 times on 8816 total possession, per In Game 1, the post-up was even less prevalent. Horford, Olynyk, and Johnson combined to play 82 minutes and had three total shots out of post-ups, converting one. In the playoffs, opposing defenses can game plan and key-in on a specific player. For the Bulls, that will obviously be Thomas. The Celtics will need to counter with effective offense from surrounding pieces. This should not preclude the usage of the bigs.

Horford was 0-for-2 on post-ups in Game 1 but he still can be that secondary option. Horford’s sneaky good attacking game is one thing the Celtics can lean on more in this series and the rest of the playoffs if they advance. As much as Horford’s height can have a negative impact on his post-up ability it can be an advantage on the perimeter especially against the slow-footed Chicago bigs.

Even if post-ups is not a great method for Horford to score himself, the Celtics could use his passing ability out of the post more. As he does here in a post-up give-and-go of sorts to Jae Crowder.

While using Horford on the perimeter is crucial to the Celtics offensive set-up, it is not the only way they can score. Rather, occasional post-ups could foster scoring from players not named Isaiah. One way or the other, the Celtics will need to compensate for a roster that is void of true post-up scorers.