One of the most familiar plays utilized by the Boston Celtics over the past few seasons has been a basic pick-and-pop with Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. After setting a monstrous (moving?) screen, Garnett will drift to 18 feet while Rondo draws both defenders deep into the paint.
The play is designed to get one of the game's premier shooting big men a wide-open look from his sweet spot, and the whole sequence usually looks beautiful because both guys know each other so well.
But the Celtics have been known to rely on it, leading to painful stretches when baskets are few and far between. Garnett is not young. Sometimes taking a deep jump shot late in the fourth quarter isn't the best option for those tired legs.
Also, despite Garnett having an elite shot from this distance, it is a long two-pointer, otherwise known as the worst shot in basketball. It's a nice play to run, but not the type of set even an average offense would hang its hat on.
In conversation, the solution is simple: Get Garnett closer looks. But this isn't 2004 anymore, and that's much easier said than done. Luckily for Boston, Doc Rivers is the head coach, and the schemes he's recently devised to solve the problems posed by his team's frequent scoring droughts are unsurprisingly brilliant.
Last Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, a mild case could be made that the Celtics turned their season around. (This might be overly dramatic, but almost every second this team played before that game was awful.)
A major reason how was this beautiful slip-and-roll set that was tag-teamed by Rondo and Garnett. In this example, Garnett comes up to fake like he's about to set a flat screen, but as soon as Rondo begins to drive toward the basket, he turns and darts toward the paint (instead of popping out for a jumper).
With Brandon Jennings behind the action, the play momentarily turns into a two-on-one with Garnett and Rondo taking on a helpless Larry Sanders. The "slip" by Garnett is done to get him in the paint as quickly as possible, forcing a split-second rotation from a defense that's still focused on stopping Boston's dynamic point guard.
As the game went on, the Bucks adjusted, packing the paint to prevent Garnett's dashes to the rim. But the Celtics were ready, making an adjustment of their own.
Rondo reads the defense beautifully, and the result is a would-be hockey assist to Brandon Bass, who passes it along to Jason Terry for a wide-open three-pointer. The shot doesn't go in, but it's still a great look; one the Celtics will be more than happy with.
On their next offensive possession after replacing Garnett with backup big man Chris Wilcox, the Celtics run the exact same slip screen play.
The timing between Rondo and Wilcox isn't as smooth, but the point guard still manages to feed his partner with a catchable ball.
(One underrated aspect of this entire play is the undeniable—and unquantifiable—emotional effect it has on the Celtics. Alley-oops are obvious fan favorites, and even though you can't measure their impact with statistics, to suggest they don't rev a player's engine would be incorrect, especially when one of them is a re-energized Garnett, snarling back to play defense.)
Two nights ago we saw a different wrinkle added to get Garnett easy dunks at the rim: an on-ball stagger screen involving Rondo, Garnett and Paul Pierce that resulted in a couple timely buckets helping the Celtics pull out a much-needed victory against Chicago, one of the best defensive teams in basketball.
The play begins with Garnett pretending to set a screen on Marquis Teague before cutting to the rim. Chicago packs the paint just like Milwaukee did, and Rondo throws a pass to Bass, who's immediately smothered by Taj Gibson, an elite defender. The ball returns to Rondo at the top of the key, and Paul Pierce comes over to set another screen on Teague.
Rondo uses the screen and finds Pierce's man, Luol Deng, who's immediately checked by Garnett. Just like that, the Celtics are back where they started, running a basic pick and roll with Garnett and Rondo. The only difference here is they're now operating a few feet lower on the court against two slower defenders.
Later on, Boston found itself up two with less than a minute left. Rivers chose to return to this same stagger screen and the result was another lob at the rim for Garnett.
Boston's offense has been suspect these last few seasons, and with Pierce and Garnett getting up there in age, Rivers' job to place his veterans in easy scoring positions is more important than ever before. So far this season, he's more than lived up to his reputation as one of the best in-game X-and-O minds on an NBA bench.