Three for eight.
That's what the Boston Celtics shot from the free throw line in the last four minutes of last night's nauseating two-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Two misses for the Infuriated Infant with the Celtics trailing by two. One for two for Paul Pierce after the Celtics had the good luck of seeing Fred Jones miss a technical with the score tied. Two sets of one for two for Rajon Rondo, both times with the score tied in the final two minutes.
The late-game fiasco at the line made a nice contribution to the Celtics' awful 22-for-32 (68.8 percent) foul shooting night overall. Which makes three times in four games since the All-Star break that the Celtics have squandered opportunities big-time at the so-called charity stripe.
For the season, the team shoots a shade better than 77 percent from the foul line, right about the league median. Last Thursday night, the Celts went 19-for-29 (65.5 percent) in a game they lost by five points in Utah. On Sunday, the fact that they ran away from the Suns for a 20-point win kindly obscured a 28-for-40 (70 percent) performance from the line. Only the 18-for-21 (85.7 percent) effort in Monday's romp over Denver qualifies as passable.
The Celtics have been fortunate that opponents have shot even worse than they have from the foul line over this span. But that doesn't make the team's 87-for-122 (71.3 percent) performance over these last four games any more acceptable or any less worrisome.
That the team's second most frequent free throw shooter (Leon Powe) and primary ball-handler (Rajon Rondo) are shooting 66.3 and 62.7 percent from the line respectively is equally concerning. Make no mistake: Rondo has been fantastic as of late, and it's tough to quibble much with his recent efforts. But as a guy who brings so much value to this team with the ball in his hands, upping his free throw shooting needs to be first on his list of improvements to make going forward so that he can avoid being a liability late in games. Two four-miss games over four days on less than 10 attempts in each contest can't happen. Similarly, if Powe is going to work as hard as he does inside to get to the line (he leads the team at 7.7 free throws attempted per 36 minutes), he too must work to make them count more.
But those two are only the most prominent culprits in what has been a team-wide problem (Ray Allen excluded) of late. The Celtics sit eighth in the league at 26.3 attempts per game. The more of a team's possessions that are accounted for by free throw attempts, the more important it is to be accurate at the line. While the Clippers were no better last night, they took 10 fewer free throws, grabbed four more offensive rebounds and turned the ball over eight fewer times. This is relevant because even though the Clips shot a lower percentage from the field than the Celtics did, they hit six more buckets for the game because those factors resulted in 17 more attempts.
The Celtics are going to get a lot of free throw opportunities on most nights. Lately, they haven't been making the most of them, and that bit them big-time last night against a 14-43 opponent.
Some random quick-hitters before I spend the day trying to purge the images of that game from my memory:
- While his two misses at the line came at an inopportune time, Large Baby did shoot the ball well once more. He hit his first five attempted jumpers and looked as smooth as we've seen him from mid-range. He had a miss under the basket and his lone missed jumper come late in the game, but a 5-for-7 night from the field is nothing to be ashamed of.
- I'll go ahead and sit out this week's edition of everyone's favorite party game, Blame the Zebra! Yes, Bennett Salvatore made a bad call in the final minute when he granted the Clips a timeout off a missed foul shot when they had not yet secured possession of the ball. He's been known to do that. But it was one questionable call (albeit one with terrible timing), and those are going to occur from time to time in games that are officiated by humans. As WildYams correctly pointed out in the comments section of Green17's recap, the Celtics never should have let this game get to a point where one call could make such a difference. They were nine and a half point favorites over a vastly inferior team and played some of their most lackluster basketball of the season. Play a good 47 minutes beforehand, and that call isn't an issue. Hit the foul shot, and that call never happens. I'm not saying this justifies what appeared to be a mistake on the referees' part (and I hope their supervisors don't see it this way), but as with most Celtics losses, I also don't see a lot of justification in hanging this one on the officials.
- Four of the Celtics' 21 turnovers came courtesy of offensive fouls. Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis were responsible for three of those on the illegal screens that have plagued them throughout the season, including two in a 27-second span early in the third quarter. Not good.
- Seeing the abhorrent Zach Randolph beat the C's with a putback off of an offensive rebound made me sick to my stomach.
- Offensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, offensive rebounds: The Celtics played almost their best few defensive possessions of the night in the final two minutes, using tight ball pressure to routinely force ball movement to stagnate on the perimeter and avoid easy looks. But it was only "almost" because twice in the final minute, after forcing the Clippers to take contested shots (a Baron Davis fling from behind the arc followed by an uncomfortable-looking floater from Mardy Collins), the Celtics allowed back-breaking offensive rebounds for lay-ups to Marcus Camby and Zach Randolph. Camby and Randolph combined for 10 offensive rebounds. The Celtics had nine.
- Seems like there is just something Rondo loves about that space from the top of the key to the left wing behind the arc: Raj is 8-for-9 from there on the season compared to 4-for-26 from three otherwise.
- Ray Allen didn't make a field-goal in the second half, but he only took four shots in that span. Odd.
- Best wishes to Eric Gordon for a speedy recovery after suffering a shoulder injury last night. He had a poor shooting night (1-for-7), but the rookie can fill it up and sure is fun to watch.
- Similar wishes to Paul Pierce, who jammed his thumb in the third quarter and then aggravated the injury in the fourth. Here's hoping he is all right.
- Brief first impressions of Mikki Moore (with more sure to come as we see more of him): Looked good on the mid-range jumper, wasn't averse to hustling, did plenty of screaming, didn't exactly tear it up on the glass (one board in 13 minutes), could have done without fouling Baron Davis for an and-one at the end of the third quarter. He has the makings of a fan favorite thanks to his energy, and we'll see how much he contributes. I'll go for being cautiously optimistic thus far.
- Keep on shooting, Eddie Mansion.
- Highlight of the night: Clips announcers Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith (two of the best in the business) interviewing Sam Cassell, who sat courtside. Between his easygoing nature, his generally goofy demeanor and his willingness to heap praise on the Celtics organization (despite his not playing a second this season and then getting shipped out to clear roster space last week), it was a pleasure to hear him talk. His comments about players being Celtics for life and about the value of meeting the Celtics legends, particularly the one he called Mr. Russell, brought me a rare smile last night. It would be great to see him end up back with this team in some capacity. I could listen to Sam I Am all day.