The league has been trying to figure out how to beat the Celtics for the first 3 months of the season. Through January 5th, the team was 29 – 3 (an amazing 90% winning percentage). Lately, teams are finding a lot more success against the Celtics. In the last ten games, the Celtics have lost half of them.
Granted, it is much easier beating the Celtics without Kevin Garnett, but even when he’s been in there, the losses have mounted lately. Recently, even the wins Celts have been too close for comfort over teams that would have been blown out in the first few months.
So what’s the deal? How are these teams doing it? How do you beat the Celtics? I don’t presume to know as much as the NBA scouts do, but I have a few ideas of how teams have started attacking the Celts. Here is a blueprint for Celtics opponents:
It is no secret that the Celtics big stars are all over 3o years old. Early in the season that wasn’t so big a concern. But now that the games are piling up and the bodies are wearing down, it becomes harder to bounce back from a hard foul. It also slows the pace of the game and forces the Celts to play a style of basketball that limits them offensively.
Example: Sacramento Kings on 12/29/07 – They pushed, grabbed, held, scraped, scrapped, and did everything but bite the Celtics. Sure, they lost, but they also went on a 14-1 run in the 3rd quarter which made a game they had no business being in a lot closer.
The Catch: Sometimes this style of play gets Kevin Garnett fired up. You don’t want to do that. It also makes guys like Perkins and Posey even more ornery than they normally are on defense. You don’t want that either.
2. Talk Trash To Paul Pierce
You really don’t want to get KG mad, but you kinda do want to get Pierce upset. Sure, Pierce plays off his emotion and sometimes he’ll use that fire to slice your defense apart. But once he gets going, the best thing you can do is to egg him on. Once he gets past a certain point, he’s going to keep jawing and keep focusing on you instead of the game. He’ll be distracted and maybe do something to hurt the team.
Example: Knicks game on 1/21/08 – Pierce and Richardson got called for matching technicals for yappin’ at each other. Did that stop either one? Nope, a few minutes later they were both tossed. The Celtics still won the game, but the Knicks would sacrifice Q to get Paul out of the game every day of the week. Another example is when Pierce pushed Jamal Tinsley in the playoffs a number of years back.
The Catch: Once again, you really don’t want to fire up KG. I can’t stress this enough.
3. Pressure Ball Handlers Not Named Rondo
Rondo is too quick and too sure-handed to pressure. You’ll just end up chasing him down the court. Not so with anyone else on the roster. House doesn’t make good enough decisions under pressure. Tony Allen is a Tazmanian Devil bringing the ball up. He’s just as likely to dunk on all 5 defenders as he is to dribble it off his foot. If you can get them to make Ray Allen bring the ball up, even better because then he isn’t running off screens developing a rhythm and knocking down 3s.
Example: All season long and in particular when Rondo was out.
The Catch: Sooner or later the C’s will sign a backup point guard and this will be a moot point. Even if they don’t, Doc will work with the team to pass the ball up the court instead of dribbling it. If they work on that enough, they will get more layups than turnovers out of full court pressure.
Similar to playing physical, going to the zone has been known to disrupt the Celtics offense. The pick and roll is less effective and screening for Ray and Paul doesn’t do much against a zone.
Example: The Wizards beat the Celts twice in a row (1/12/08, 1/14/08) in part by using zone defense. Doc mentioned that the team didn’t move the ball well enough to make the defense pay. The 3 ball simply wasn’t falling either.
The Catch: If Ray Alllen, Eddie House, and/or Paul Pierce get hot from outside, abort plan immediately.
5. Hit All Your 3 Pointers
Ok, so this is a plan that every team would like to implement. Still, if a team has good shooters and can knock down open looks, they can beat the Celtics or any team for that matter. Just like in March Madness, except that in the NBA playoffs you have to do it over 4 games.
Example: The Raptors on 1/23/08 – The Raps shot 71% from down town (15-21) and beat the Celtics.
The Catch: Live by the 3, die by the 3. Right Jim O’Brien?
So there you have it. I’m sure I’m missing some more plans that have been tossed around and attempted but you get the idea. For every plan, there’s a catch. The best laid plans are not worth much if the Celtics are focused and executing the way they can.
The more teams learn how to beat the Celtics, the more the Celtics will build up defenses against those tactics. The playoffs are a given. Home court is a decent goal. But the biggest thing the Celtics are doing right now is learning how to win in any environment against anything the league can throw at them.