How Boston generated so many high-quality 3-point shots in Game 1 victory

The Boston Celtics were 36-1 in the regular season when they shot 40% or better from 3. They’re now 1-0 in the playoffs after banking 22 triples at a 48% clip en route to a 114-94 Game 1 route of the Miami Heat in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as even the 20-point finishing margin would indicate.

Everyone knows the Celtics live and (rarely) die by the 3. They led the league with 42.5 attempts per game in the regular season. They shot 49 in Game 1. When they’re making them north of 40%, it’s going to be almost impossible to beat them even for a top-shelf opponent. The Heat minus Jimmy Butler have zero chance.

So now it becomes a question of repeatability. It’s unlikely the Celtics will shoot this well in Game 2 or perhaps for the rest of the series, but can the Heat afford to sit back and hope that the shooting-luck pendulum will magically swing in their favor? Not likely, because it’s not as if Boston was relying on self-created jumpers that could, in theory, go cold the next time out.

Of Boston’s 49 3-point attempts, only eight, and two of its 22 makes, came off the dribble. The rest were assisted, and they came in a variety of on-time, in-rhythm fashions that lend themselves to sustainability.

Let’s start with Kristaps Porzingis, who made four 3s on his own in Game 1 and all season has been the super-stretch big that has spaced Boston’s offense to almost indefensible extremes. Porzingis generates high-quality 3-point attempts for Boston in three major ways.

First, his range as a shooter easily extends to 30 feet. He regularly stations himself so far behind the line on pick-and-pops that the extra space defenders are forced to cover in flying back out to him affords the extra split second he needs to get off a clean look before they arrive.

Second, Porzingis is one of the most effective post-up scorers in the league. With four high-level 3-point shooters around him in Boston starters Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to cover both.

Here, Tatum enters to Porzingis in the post. If Miami were to play Porzingis one-on-one, he has a four-inch height and six-inch wingspan advantage on Nikola Jovic; he faces up and shoots over the top as well as anyone in the league. Thus, Miami elects to bring down a second defender, which triggers a kick-out pass to Tatum, who then easily swings it one more time for an open Holiday 3 against a scrambling defense that is a step behind in rotation.

Finally, Porzingis is a major threat as a roller. Here, he plays pick-and-pop with Derrick White. and when Bam Adebayo recovers quickly enough to thwart a shot, he immediately flows into two-man action with Jaylen Brown. Only this time, instead of popping behind the line, Porzingis rolls to the basket, which then forces Tyler Herro to drop down to cut him off. That leaves Payton Pritchard unoccupied in the corner for a wide-open and in-rhythm 3.

This is what has made Porzingis such a boon to Boston’s offense. It’s not just his actual shooting or the range at which it comes from; it’s his presence as an interior scorer that necessitates traditional double teams and rotations that leave his teammates open. He’s an extraordinary inside-out weapon.

Now, one of the ways Miami likes to match up to potent offenses is to deploy its patented zone defense. The key to beating any zone defense is to force it to converge, either by breaching the gaps by either pass or penetration, or forcing a traditional double team.

The 76ers couldn’t figure out how to do this for the bulk of their Play-In game vs. Miami, and it led to a lot of stagnated perimeter offense without any interior threat to collapse the zone. Credit head coach Joe Mazzulla for having the Celtics ready for Miami’s zone. They weren’t hesitant in the slightest. They attacked it with equal parts assertion and patience.

One specific way the Celtics compromised Miami’s zone was by getting the ball to Tatum in the corner, as opposed to the typical high-post or elbow gap entires, for what was essentially a man-principle post-up. It led to three Sam Hauser 3-pointers either by Tatum drawing a second defender down and starting a swing sequence with a kick-out pass, or by Tatum delivering a pair of sensational skip passes as the backside of the zone sagged in.

That is all predicated on the patience of Tatum, who backed himself down calmly until Miami was forced to send a second defender or until he saw the skip pass open. Then boom, he delivered the pass without any hesitation as soon as the moment was right.

That’s super high-quality offense from your superstar, and it’s how Hauser, a 42% 3-point shooter who needs his open shots created for him, wound up with three rhythmic 3-point opportunities.

Hauser delivered a fourth 3-pointer when Holiday penetrated to the elbow and skipped a bullet left-handed pass cross-court, which you’ll see below as part of Boson’s final shot-creation package: The drive-and-kick game. This is as basic as it is indefensible when executed. Penetrator gets downhill, forcing wing defender to sink down in help, leaving shooter open. Bang.

Consistent in all these examples is the steady, confident flow of Boston’s offense. Nobody is hesitating, and nobody is rushing. It’s the old John Wooden adage: Be quick but don’t hurry. Miami’s defense was reacting to Boston’s offense all game, rather than the other way around. The Celtics were always one beat ahead.

When that’s the case, you only have to be willing and able to pass the ball to the right spots at the right times and you’re going to get open looks as defenders chase. Boston was more than willing and able in Game 1, and it led to this wonderful variety of clean, rhythmic 3-point shots.

If the Celtics continue to create the same kinds of looks moving forward in this series, rather than the individually-created, off-the-dribble ones that come with a higher degree of variance, you can expect more big 3-point numbers from the best shooting team in the league, and Miami’s hopes of Boston’s catching a run of bad shooting luck will diminish greatly.

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