After the game, everybody talked about “the play.”
“They ran that pick-and-roll play down the stretch that gave us a lot of problems,” Deron Williams said.
“It’s a good play,” Lionel Hollins said. “They hurt us with it when we played in Boston and they had (Rajon) Rondo. They ran the same play down the stretch, and we had trouble defending it. It’s a tough play, and they have people who are perfect for the play.”
“We gave up a lot of easy baskets, also, this one play was just killing us,” Thaddeus Young said. “We couldn’t get the coverages right.”
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So what was the play, the magic dust that turned a competitive contest between the Brooklyn Nets & Boston Celtics into a dominating 110-91 Celtics win in Brooklyn?
With the Celtics up 85-78 and the fourth quarter just kicking off, Celtics coach Brad Stevens ran the simple but deadly “Stack” play, setting up a ball-handling guard up top (Phil Pressey or Evan Turner), off-guard Marcus Smart, and center Kelly Olynyk in an “I” formation (i.e. “stacked”) at the top of the key. The Celtics got five different, equally easy shots out of the look, turning a competitive seven-point game into a blowout in four fourth-quarter minutes.
Each player presented his own danger. “They had a small guy in the pick-and-roll, and they had a big guy who could pop back and shoot threes,” Hollins said. “They’d go off the small (guy) and he’d run away, and the big would go to the basket — or if he wasn’t going to the basket, he was popping back. They hit a couple of shots that way.”
Here’s the basic start:
The formation was a jumping-off point for a number of different looks for a versatile Celtics team.
On the first look, Pressey veered left around Smart, who wasn’t setting much of a screen — just a slight bump on Jack. But with Smart rolling to the basket behind him and Olynyk popping out, neither Lopez or Bogdanovic was willing to help off their man, and Pressey used the momentum to curl around Jack for the layup.
Stevens went right back to it on the second possession, and it was even easier: with Turner guarded by the less mobile Joe Johnson, Turner led Johnson right into a Kelly Olynyk screen, and with Lopez slow to help and Celtics shooters spacing the floor, Turner got right to the rim for two of his 18 points.
“He was really good with the ball tonight,” Stevens said of Turner, who finished the game with 18 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds, marking his second triple-double in the last 15 games. “He was making great decisions off of the pick-and-roll. He was aggressive from the start.”
Not to be deterred by two straight easy baskets, the Celtics kept the Stack running. On the play below, Jack switched onto Turner after the screen instead of make Johnson fight through, which worked temporarily.
But the Celtics turned the play into a basic pick-and-roll with Olynyk and Turner, and the Nets didn’t have any help defense on the way — not with Olynyk running a surprise roll to the basket, and two three-point shooters in Jonas Jerebko and Phil Pressey spacing the Nets defense away from the paint.
“We’re used to them setting ball screens with the bigs, and one big rolls, one big pops, but they was setting it with a guard and a big,” Young noted. “Then it was kind of putting our bigs in a bind in a little bit, where we tried to have to figure out which one to take.”
“They were popping Olynyk a lot, they were popping the big, and rolling the guard,” Lopez said. “That’s not something a lot of people are used to guarding. It’s inversed.”
So how do you stop that kind of play?
“Communication,” Young said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things. We weren’t communicating to each other, so we couldn’t really get it down.”
Lopez agreed. “We have to have all our players on the same page. Just team defense, and we’ve all got to know our responsibilities. We can’t have two guys going to one player.”
The Nets have struggled with teams that can invert their offense like the Celtics, who have big guards that can get inside and big men that can shoot from three-point range. After taking a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter, the Celtics outscored Brooklyn 87-63 the rest of the way, taking advantage of Brooklyn’s defensive confusion and racking up 58 points in the paint. It was still close until the fourth quarter, thanks to 31 points from Lopez, 15 in the third quarter. But once the Celtics started stacking, the Nets lost their chips.
Perhaps no one put it better than Hollins: “We don’t match up with them very well.”
The loss dropped the Nets to 29-40, putting them 1.5 games behind these Boston Celtics for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. With a win, the Nets would’ve been firmly in the eighth spot. The Celtics also clinched the season series with the Nets with the victory.
“We knew this was a big game, you guys knew this was a big game,” Williams said. “It wasn’t just one game, like it normally is when you lose to a team, and you fall back one game in the standings. This was actually two, because of the tiebreaker. Now they have the tiebreaker.”
The good news for the Nets: the other two teams they’re fighting for position, the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, also lost, meaning that they only gave up ground to the Celtics in the race. If you can consider that good news, anyway.
The Nets will take Tuesday off and travel to Charlotte Wednesday to face the Hornets.