Playoff Playbook: Boston Celtics Horns Milwaukee

Brad Stevens gets a lot of praise for his set plays, and with good reason, but some of the Celtics’ best actions are the simplest ones. I covered the Double Drag set they use to get into the flow of the offense early in possessions and today brings another one: Horns Milwaukee*, a set that gets Jaylen Brown going to his stronger right hand and into the paint with relative consistency.

The play starts in a normal Horns formation, in which the point guard has the ball at the top of the key, the two big men are at the elbows, and the two wings are in opposite corners. Brown occupies the left corner to begin the play in order to come off the handoff and ball screen toward his right hand. Horns sets are popular at all levels of basketball because almost every type of play can be run out of it; some teams at lower levels run exclusively Horns every time down the floor. In most Horns sets, the ball will be entered to one of the two big men at the elbow, but in Horns Milwaukee, the point guard takes the ball into the corner for a handoff for Brown, who takes the handoff before receiving a ball screen to attack the basket

As Terry Rozier takes the ball to Brown in the corner, Al Horford crosses down to the opposite block and Aron Baynes follows Rozier to set the ball screen for Brown, who’s already moving full speed by the time Baynes gets there with the screen. Brown’s defender gets caught up by two screens from Rozier and Baynes, plus Baynes’ man is moving the wrong direction to contain Brown’s penetration, leading to an open lane to the rim. Horford, now down on the block, can effectively box his man out of the play without being called for an illegal screen, since it looks as though he’s just battling for positioning. Baynes rolls down the paint as well for putback opportunities, as Brown’s defender is now responsible for keeping him off the defensive glass, which isn’t going to end well for the opposition.

It’s not the most complex set play the Celtics run, but it can consistently create a path to the basket for Brown and generates shots at the rim with strong offensive rebounding chances due to Baynes’ and Horford’s positioning. Sometimes, it’s not about drawing up the most beautiful, intricate play on the planet; the simple ones can sometimes be just the trick.


*Note: the “Milwaukee” portion of the name is something I completely made up. It has nothing to do with the Milwaukee Bucks. There’s no name that I’ve heard for the handoff-to-ball-screen action we see here, but there is a name for the opposite action, where there’s a down screen before the player receives a handoff. This is called “Chicago”, so I named this opposite action “Milwaukee”.