How Brad Stevens set up Jayson Tatum's crucial dunk in Celtics' rally vs. Rockets

The Boston Celtics led for 0.01 percent of Thursday night's showdown with the Houston Rockets, but it was enough to get them a victory, as they completed a miraculous 26-point comeback to win 99-98. They got the job done thanks to some stout defense in the second half, a few questionable calls, and a brilliant out of bounds play designed by Brad Stevens. 

Down by three with just 11.6 seconds remaining, the Celtics needed a quick bucket if they wanted to extend the game. And they got just that, scoring in about 3 seconds off a neat little sideline out of bounds look. Here's how it went down.

First Stevens put the ball in Jayson Tatum's hands for the inbound. The rookie getting that task shows how much his coach trusts him, which should be no surprise for the player who took over No. 1 in CBS Sports' NBA Rookie Power Rankings this week. Then the Celtics overload the weak side: Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier huddle together in a row on the wing, while Kyrie Irving chills out near midcourt. 

1.png
Celtics set up with an overload on the weak side.

The action begins with the trio on the wing breaking formation. Smart sprints to the strong side looking for the ball, while Horford and Rozier trade places. As for Irving, he starts making his way toward the top of the key. 

2.png
Smart comes strong side to get the ball. 

After Tatum gets the ball in to Smart, Irving then shows up on the scene with a screen for Tatum at the top of the key. Meanwhile, Horfod and Rozier are both just hanging out on the weak side to create good spacing, which is key for the play to succeed. 

3.png
Here comes the screen from Irving.

Wheeling around the Irving screen, Tatum begins cutting to the basket, and he does so alone. Caught up on the screen, P.J. Tucker loses Tatum. And because Trevor Ariza is so concerned with Irving -- can you blame him? -- he doesn't help right away. This gives Tatum a huge head start, and thanks to the Celtics' great spacing, no one is in the paint to get in his way. 

Normally, the low defender here would start to creep over, but Horford is such a good shooter that Tarik Black can't leave him too early, less the Celtics' big man be wide open for a 3. Especially given that they were up by three at the time, the Rockets definitely didn't want to give up an open look from downtown. 

4.png
Both Rockets defenders stick with Irving.

Eventually, Ariza realizes what happened and tries to recover on to Tatum. It's too late, however, as Smart whips in a great pass to the streaking rookie. With no one under the basket, Tatum easily slams the ball home. Notice how the Celtics have excellent spacing and floor balance, and how it makes this play work.

Eric Gordon is just straight up face guarding Rozier, so he's not in a position to offer help. And Black, cognizant of both the game situation and his man in the corner, can't get under the rim to contest a shot. With Horford spaced all the way out to the corner, there's too much ground to make up for Black. He must choose one or the other -- defend the rim or prevent a pass to Horford -- he can't do both. 

5.png
Tatum gets an easy slam. 

And boom goes the dynamite. 

Now here's the play in real time. Let's run the tape.

Now, upon further review, it certainly appears as tho Smart got away with a travel on the play. The Celtics' guard shuffled his feet a bit as he prepared to make the pass. Still, that doesn't take away from the very solid play design by Stevens, which got the Celtics a vital basket and kept their comeback effort alive. 

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories