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Through the first quarter and a half, it was the Wizards using their advantages against the Celtics. Without a true center, they were smaller but also faster on the floor. That turned into 36 transition points on the night; Boston only gives up 14 a game on average.
However, midway through the third quarter with the game tied 76-76, Sam Hauser and Al Horford replaced Jaylen Brown and Jrue Holiday. The substitution gave Boston that vaunted double big pairing with Horford and Kristaps Porzingis (and the 6’8 Jayson Tatum at the 3) and a height advantage across the front court. That effectively turned the tables on Washington by slowing down the game on defense and playing with more purpose on the other side of the ball.
“A good shot, I don’t care where it is on the floor. We take what the defense gives us and we’re taking advantage with what we think the other team’s weaknesses are. It doesn’t matter what kind of shot it is,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said after the game. In the end, the Celtics outscored the Wizards 62-42 in the paint by taking it to Washington’s weakest defenders.
“We joke about it a lot, but the point is to infiltrate the defense, take advantage of the weakness, take the best shot possible based on their coverages and our matchups.”
Just before this clips starts, Horford and Derrick White run a simple pick-and-roll. Tyus Jones switches on to Horford in the post, slips, and falls to the parquet. That kicks off a series of defensive scrambling on Washington’s part that ends with Porzingis with a wide open 3. Sure, the action starts with a big (Horford) taking advantage of a small (Jones) on the block, but it’s also the spacing and unselfish ball movement that ultimately generates a great shot on the perimeter.
A few possessions later, it’s a more traditional “me big, you small” mismatch. Horford runs in transition and recognizes the size advantage on Landry Shamet. He very deliberately runs to the block, calls for the ball, doesn’t react to the Shamet flop, and calmly puts in the layup.
Finally, with Porzingis gassed after playing the entire third quarter, he refuses the down screen from Sam Hauser and Hauser instead screens and gets Jordan Poole switched on to Tatum. Tatum does the rest and effortlessly drives past Poole for the dunk.
Tatum would finish the game with a team-high 35 points, but it was Porzingis’ 34 against his former team that really showed how his presence raises the team’s ceiling to potentially the rafters. Porzingis finished 2-for-4 from behind the arc, but importantly, he punished Washington in the paint and subsequently went to the line fourteen times and making all of his free throws.
“To be honest, now playing against them, Kuz was guarding me for a big part of the game, I don’t think he realized how much I was doing for them — all the tricks, all the drawing the fouls, little bit of grabs here and there. ‘You’re a dirty—.’ ‘Brother, you didn’t realize all the little things I was doing for you guys,’” Porzingis said.
He continued, “We always want to find the balance between ‘we want to attack this matchup’ or ‘we just want to play in the flow and see what happens.’ We have so much talent that each night, we could win differently. Even if we’re prepared to do something, something else opens up because they’re doing a counter to whatever we’re trying to do. It’s always reads throughout the game.”
Porzingis is a Celtic now and the opportunity to raise a banner isn’t lost on him. He’ll gladly trade a role as a team’s focal point and a chance to rep a franchise in the All-Star Game for a mid-season tan during the break and an opportunity to get his body ready for the postseason and raise Banner 18.