Swing Double Drag: The Boston Celtics’ go-to SLOB play

Oct 6, 2016; Greensboro, NC, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens looks on from the sidelines during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Greensboro Coliseum. The Celtics won 107-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 6, 2016; Greensboro, NC, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens looks on from the sidelines during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Greensboro Coliseum. The Celtics won 107-92. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has established a reputation as one of the best set play coaches in the league. Stevens has the uncanny ability to come up with creative plays and put them to use at the perfect moment in the game. On sidelines out of bounds plays, the Celtics love to run a play called Swing Double Drag, which uses the speed of point guard Isaiah Thomas and the pick-and-pop capability of their multitude of sweet-shooting big men.

The premise of Swing Double Drag is simple: swing the ball to the weak side and give Thomas a double drag screen so that he can attack the basket, pull up for a 3-pointer, or find one of Boston’s many shooters.

Note: I don’t come up with the most creative play names in the world. Swing Double Drag is just my name for it. I’m sure Stevens and his coaching staff have a much better name that doesn’t give away the entire play in three words when he shouts it to his team in the middle of the game.

The play starts with a quick down screen by Thomas for one of the bigs up toward the middle of the floor. The big catches from the inbounder and immediately turns to find Thomas, who has cut from the free throw line toward the opposite wing. While Thomas is getting the ball, the inbounder cuts across the court and sets a ball screen for Thomas, who runs off both screens from the inbounder and the big and can attack the paint from there.

Against the Knicks, Thomas gets screens from Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk and splits the defenders after the second screen to get into the lane.

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This works especially well against the trapping pick-and-roll defense of the Knicks, who get in their own way trying to defend Thomas. Derrick Rose fights through Smart’s screen, but before Olynyk can make contact on the second screen, Rose has to dodge around his own man, Carmelo Anthony, making it even more unlikely that he’ll get back into the play to defend Thomas, who crosses over Joakim Noah to get to the rim.

Thomas has a solid off-the-dribble jumper, so if the defense decides to go under the double screen, he’ll just pull up and knock down the three from the top of the key.

Ish Smith goes under the screen from Jae Crowder and Marcus Morris doesn’t step up to stop Thomas, so he stops and pops the 3-pointer. Tobias Harris is still stuck behind Horford; Thomas doesn’t dribble off the Horford screen, instead opting to use him as a deterrent for Harris.

Thomas cut that play off at the top of the key for the jumper, but he’ll also sometimes cut the play off at that same point for a drive into the lane, especially if his defender isn’t strong fighting through the first screen.

Thomas gets the first screen from Smart and the Nuggets switch, putting Danilo Gallinari on Thomas. Thomas hesitates at the top of the key and Gallinari correctly jumps up to ice the second screen to try to send Thomas toward the baseline and into the waiting help of Jusuf Nurkic, but Nurkic isn’t in the right position for that and Thomas is too quick, forcing Gallinari to foul him instead of giving up the open layup.

The same initial inbounds pass can open up a lot of different options for the Celtics as well. Boston will look for a dribble handoff for Avery Bradley, a quick post-up for their bigger wings, or a deceptive screen-the-screener action to get a shooter open.

Tyler Zeller pops up to the top of the key and turns to fake the pass to Thomas, but instead comes back and hands off to Bradley, who has already come around a screen from Amir Johnson. This screen-to-dribble-handoff combination is almost impossible to guard without switching everything and opening up dangerous mismatches and against bigs that hang back in the paint, this handoff to Bradley earns him an open jumper.

Boston particularly likes these different options when Thomas isn’t in the game. It doesn’t quite have the same effect on the defense when Terry Rozier is the one dribbling off those double drag screens.

Smart inbounds to Johnson, but instead of cutting across the top of the key to screen for Rozier, he gets a back screen from Zeller and tries to post up on the smaller Jeff Teague. Smart doesn’t have a fantastic game down in the post, but he’s able to punish smaller players at a decent rate. As he develops this part of his game, he’ll also be able to pass out to shooters; on this play, James Young gets a double down screen from Zeller and Johnson to the top of the key for a 3. Young isn’t anywhere near open, but it’s yet another option to which the Celtics can go.

Boston has the unique luxury of having multiple big men on the roster who can step out and shoot the 3 effectively. Horford, Olynyk, and Jonas Jerebko can all punish opposing bigs who play too far off them, and the Celtics will use these capabilities in the final branch of Swing Double Drag.

Smart inbounds the ball to Jerebko and cuts toward the rim as if he’s going to get the Horford screen for the post-up we saw in the previous video. However, Smart instead stops and sets a screen for Horford, letting him pop out to the 3-point line. Andre Drummond does a great job fighting through the screen and not biting on Horford’s patented pump fake. Horford looks for Smart in the post and then gives him the dribble handoff that leads to the floater.

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Stevens is one of the sharpest tactical minds in the league and his SLOB and ATO plays are always a treat to watch. Swing Double Drag is no exception; with its multiple options and actions across the court, defenses have to be fully aware of every possibility in order to stop the Celtics from getting what they want.