How Sam Hauser and the Celtics bench opened up the team’s offense

NEW YORK — After a record-breaking night for the Celtics’ offense, Jayson Tatum and Sam Hauser discussed a most important issue: Hauser’s 3-point celebrations.

Although Hauser said he wasn’t very attached to them most of the time, he apparently broke character once on Saturday night. After one of his four 3-point catches in the first half, he cracked Tatum with an overreaction. After a quick post-game lift, Tatum asked Hauser to repeat what he said after the shot.

“I said, ‘Boom, motherf—-r’,” Hauser replied.

He might need to come up with a new slogan. Tatum suggested that one didn’t fit Hauser’s personality. Either way, the moment brought a lot of laughs to both teammates after a 133-118 win over the Knicks. And, hey, the line might even make sense as a motto for the Celtics, who went on a stellar start to the season with a franchise-record 27 3-pointers. All nine Boston players who appeared in the game drilled at least one triple, including Tatum, Hauser and Jaylen Brown, who combined for 17 marks. At the start of this young season, the Celtics used their abundance of shooters to stretch opposing defenses to breaking point.

“I think that’s the thing with our team, right?” said Joe Mazzulla. “Thanks to our spacing, we can get a really good overview most of the time.”

At their best, that’s how the Celtics played. After breaking their previous record of 25 3-point marks with a 27-for-51 performance from long range, they lead the NBA with an average of 16 3-point marks per game. Best known last season for their big physical defense, they left Saturday night in a virtual tie with the Mavericks for the league lead in offensive efficiency. The second unit has been charging powerful runs lately thanks in part to the emergence of Hauser as another knockdown threat. The second-year pro, who played just 158 ​​total minutes as a rookie, has made 17 of 31 3-point attempts so far this season (54.8%) while getting a bigger role. Mazzulla had a simple explanation for what Hauser did to receive more minutes over the past two games.

“Shoot 3s,” Mazzulla said.

The coach stopped there for a second before finally developing his reasoning.

“No, look, he’s just playing the right way,” Mazzulla said. “He plays the right way, he knows how to play with the other guys, he can read defences, he puts a lot of pressure on defence. So that really helps our spacing. And he continues to work on improving his defence.

The Celtics have long relied on Tatum and Brown to coach the nets. The supporting cast around these two hasn’t always been filled with snipers, but the team now has a second unit filled with outside threats. Lately, Mazzulla has increased the offense by releasing lineups with Tatum and three bench shooters: Hauser, Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams. In 46 minutes with those four players on the court, the Celtics offense beat the teams to the tune of 131.9 points per 100 possessions. Mazzulla led this foursome to a huge run against Chicago on Friday night, then returned to it late in the first quarter against New York. The Celtics, who were tied 22-22 when these players first appeared at the same time, went on a 19-7 run over the next 4:31. Hauser made three of his five 3-pointers during the push.

“Sam is off,” Jaylen Brown said. “You can’t leave him. We are looking for him. Once he hits a couple, we track him down, and Sam is always ready. He works hard and he develops a good role for himself in this league.

The formula for these groups of Tatum plus benches is obvious. Although they’ve only played together for a small sample so far, their success should be at least somewhat lasting. Both Williams and Hauser are knockdown shooters. Tatum is one of the most complete offensive players in the league. Brogdon had no trouble getting into the paint at the start of this season, especially with all these threats around him. At this point in the season, the mix has helped produce some of the Celtics’ best stretches. Tatum noticed the increased spacing on the pitch.

“Just because (in) this group we have two main ballhandlers (surrounded by) Sam and Grant,” Tatum said. “They will either shoot it or pass. I’m not saying they can’t dribble, but I think it speeds things up. These guys are great at moving the ball, slipping off screens, finding just the right spacing there.

How effectively did the Celtics bench score the ball? The team’s second-unit players shot a combined 52.3% from the field, including 49% from 3-pointers. Grant Williams, at 53.8 percent, sits directly behind Hauser in third place in NBA 3-point shooting percentage. Brogdon hit a respectable 37.9 percent from deep while giving the Celtics a consistent driving threat. When he’s on the court, the offense has run through him often, leaving him with a higher usage rate than last season at Indiana. It’s a surprise because the Celtics have a lot more talent than this Pacers team, but Mazzulla put the ball in Brogdon’s hands from the start. He took advantage of the shooters around him and vice versa.

No other Celtics player has shot like Hauser so far. Although he’s still only nine games into the regular season, early feedback suggests he’s had a significant impact on Boston’s offensive opener. The Celtics blasted defenses during his minutes, scoring 127.9 points per 100 possessions. Hauser and Boston’s best off-the-dribble creators found an obvious synergy.

“He spreads the floor,” Marcus Smart said. “When you have a shooter knocked down there it’s hard. It’s hard for you to help somebody like him and try to help Jayson and try to help Jaylen and those guys and Malcolm and I going down the lane. It just makes it easier for us. And then if they stop us, you have a guy that you know is going to knock him down. It really keeps the defenses honest.

Although their offense has been strong so far, the Celtics must be dreaming how dangerous they will be once Robert Williams returns. He said he had “stepped up” his training sessions after returning to work on the pitch a few weeks ago. Williams said he was diving again, feeling good and had no setbacks. During practices, he said he could do “really anything” physically.

“They just try to keep me from being a little too explosive sometimes, from taking my time,” Williams said. “But pick-and-rolls, field management, really do a lot.”

In a sign of his progress, Williams joined the Celtics on their road trip instead of staying in Boston. In their own way, other Celtics players showed him how much they missed his presence in the locker room. As he began chatting with a group of reporters outside Tatum’s locker, Tatum announced that Williams needed to take his conversation elsewhere. And when Williams said his Celtics teammates needed him, just like he needed them, Smart gave Williams a hard time too.

“Nobody needs you, Rob,” Smart called.

The Celtics were joking. They know how much they need Williams. It moves their energy to both sides of the pitch. Their defense hasn’t been the same without him, but their attack has exploded despite his absence.

“Our guys are comfortable with the fact that when we run a good offense and have good spacing and read the defense, we’re going to look good,” Mazzulla said. “When you’re filming this volume there will be some tough moments, but for the most part I think our guys are doing a great job of filming the good ones.”

(Photo: Brian Fluharty/USA Today)

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