BOSTON — Success will not always be the same. And it won’t always lead to perfect individual score values. That’s the message the Boston Celtics are preaching with a starting lineup loaded with scoring options.
So far, at least, players seem to be accepting the idea that they will sometimes need to sacrifice touch and shot attempts. After Kristaps Porziņģis hit just four shots Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Mazzella emphasized that the young man’s dribbling and diving were key to the Celtics’ 121-107 victory. One day later, when the game was scheduled for Porziņģis to score more goals, he used 21 points against the Toronto Raptors. He said it’s okay to cross-play.
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as we play the right way, make the right pass, shoot the right shots, do the right things, like, it doesn’t matter,” Porziņģis said after beating the Raptors, 117-94. “With this kind of talent level, it doesn’t matter who takes your pictures. You know, it should be a fair game. ”
The Celtics will need that kind of mindset from all of their starters. With a 7-2 start, they were all asked to give up individual opportunities for the team. Porziņģis and Jrue Holiday currently have low career usage rates. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Derrick White all saw their usage rates drop from last season. To make everything work, players know they won’t be measured by their goal totals.
“Honestly, for me, as long as we play the right way, it doesn’t matter if I get those shots or not,” said Porziņģis. “I just enjoy attracting attention. If I set a good screen for a teammate, I move to get more attention and someone gets an open three, I love that. I like those kinds of things. For me it doesn’t matter as long as I feel like we’re playing the right way.”
KP container ➡️ JB bucket pic.twitter.com/rpbmYfrWgT
– Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 12, 2023
The attention of Porziņģis will not come from the box score. Against Brooklyn, he made high shots for his teammates without scoring as many points (nine) or assists (two) himself. Porzingis offered to post up, forcing a thin Nets defense to post help and find an open teammate. Porziņģis’ dribbling threat to the hoop absorbed the Nets’ defense enough to free some Celtics players. Porziņģis is always dedicated in every match. He is committed to making the right play even if it means releasing one of his teammates, not himself.
One night later, Toronto’s defense left Porziņģis with more scoring opportunities. He made more shots in the first quarter (six) than any other Nets game. He finished with 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting over three quarters before settling for fourth in the long win. It looked different, but Porziņģis helped both nights.
“His open mind about coaching far exceeded my expectations and his ability to say, ‘What can I do to make our team better?'” Mazzella said. “He is a different player because he is able to force two people in different situations. Those screens he was setting were getting JT (Jayson Tatum) and JB (Jaylen Brown) and our guys coming down, and that forced them to deflect, and that forced them to bring their rim protection, which allowed us to score 60 points in the paint. So there’s an ongoing impact when guys start doing all those little things, and you have an open mind to train on that and we’re thankful for that for all of our guys. ”
The Celtics offense is not a finished product. Despite recording a promising 59 assists over the past two games, the team ranks 24th in assist percentage. Mazzulla said that he cares a lot about the people who can help, it is not clear if the shots are going in, but he would like the Celtics to rise to the 18th place in this division. Al Horford said that’s how Boston will continue to grow as the new team gets used to playing together.
“I think it all starts with what Joe says,” Horford said. “We have to do a better job of moving the ball. And that is something we all understand and realize. I feel like teams play us differently, we do different learning. But I think the more we play together, the more we see how we should play, I think a lot of those things will open up. Because you look at this team and we are strong: guys who can pass the ball, who can shoot, who can do everything. So we have to keep connecting. ”
Mazzella thought Boston lost to the Timberwolves recently because the ball movement dried up late in that game. Aside from inbounds passes, the Celtics threw just three half-court passes in the final four minutes of overtime against Minnesota. Mazzella said his team cannot play like that.
“I know what (the movement of the ball) is not going to be,” Mazzella said. “It’s not going to be a Minnesota game.”
That being said, the Celtics are ranked third in offensive efficiency. They will not always need a good sequence of ball movements.
“I think it won’t be the same as passing every time,” said Mazzella. “So I think we have to make sure we play together and take what the defense gives us. So I think our last two games (before beating the Raptors) we found a good balance, like, there’s time to isolate and there’s time to pass and move the basketball. So I didn’t like that in the Minnesota game. We all agreed on that as a group. But I felt like (during the loss to Philadelphia and the win against Brooklyn) it felt different. And we have to keep working on that. ”
It’s promising that the Celtics have picked up points while developing chemistry. There are many who score goals now, but they believe that their greatest success will be determined by their commitment to everything else.
“I think it’s just ongoing discussions,” said Mazzella. “I don’t know if it will ever be right, but I think you should have those conversations.
And what we need to do as employees and as an organization is identify what success looks like for our team, and what success looks like for each individual on our team when it comes to winning. And obviously there is worldly success in terms of points and assists, but we have to be able to identify all the areas that other people don’t realize that lead to winning.
For example, Payton (Pritchard) is a tough shooter, but has the highest guard crash rate in the NBA. That makes us have more things. That is as important as his scoring. Tatum has 15 assists. Jaylen has his assistants when it comes to KP.
KP only hit four shots last game, but his elimination in the first half is what allowed the other guys to keep going. So, we have to be really serious about what success looks like. And it will look different every night.”