If you’re a fan of hoops X’s and O’s, you’re very familiar with Gregg Popovich’s hammer play as part of San Antonio’s beautiful game. Against Orlando on Monday night, Former Spurs assistant coach and now Celtics head coach Ime Udoka ran some of that magic in their first preseason game.
Since Media Day last week, Udoka has been stressing pace and sharing the basketball. That’s translated to a fast read-and-react offense where the ball is whipping around the court. He dubbed it “point five;” in half a second, you have to decide to either shoot it, pass it, or drive the ball.
But hire a former Spurs assistant coach and you’re naturally going to get some Spurs sets in your playbook. A few times against Orlando, Boston ran a more structur—stop…HAMMER TIME.
The crux of the hammer action is not knowing it’s coming. It’s hardwood sleight of hand if you will. On the ball, the defense is focused on some series of screens where they have to make multiple decisions at the same time. Above, Dennis Schroder runs through two picks set by Marcus Smart and Josh Richardson, but it’s the off ball action Orlando needs to worry about.
On the weak side, Al Horford sets a down screen to free up Jaylen Brown in the corner. The hope here is that with all defenders’ eyes watching the ball, Horford can swing the hammer down quick enough to free up Brown. The Magic do a good job sniffing it out, but Brown hits the corner trey anyway.
Later in the second half, the Celtics try and hit the Magic again with the hammer. Here, the trickeration is disguised as a Grant Williams post-up. Williams sets a down screen for Richardson to start. Ideally, the Magic switch this so that it creates a mismatch for Williams and the defense shrinks into the paint even more.
Moritz Wagner and E’twaun Moore stick to their assignments, so Williams quickly spins baseline on Wagner to try and catch them sleeping. On the weak side, it’s Horford again hammering Payton Pritchard’s defender, R.J. Hampton, with a blind side back screen and Williams swings the ball over on the baseline. That’s a pass that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili made famous on their way to four NBA championships. Let’s hope the Celtics find similar success with it.