Ive only missed a handful of games since the big 3 got together. However, I was traveling for the entire ECF and Finals run of 2007-2008 and unfortunately only got to see a couple of games from each series, along with highlights. Recently, Ive been trying to rewatch all the games from the playoff run, as Im strarting to realize this might be the last time to appreciate this group together. Rewatching these games is really interesting, especially listening to what the announcers were saying back then, and comparing it to what is going on now. There are three main takeaways that I have from watching this team operate at full force during the first 4 game sof the 2008 finals.
1. Paul Pierce has dropped of the MOST out of KG, Ray and himself
People seem to think that he has held up the best, but I think this is just because he has adjusted his game the best and found ways to become more efficienct. However, watching back then it is clear that he just isnt capable of playing the way he used to. His first step and his ability to stop on a dime and pull up has severly deterorated. With that said, his footwork has gotten better, so he is able to create shots for himself and maintain efficiency. However, the lack of speed has impeded his ability to run the offense like he did in most of 2007-2008, as defenders dont have to worry about him driving and can thus play him tighter and get up in his face. I think that, despite his obvious drop off, it actually effects the team less than one would think, as his main weapon was still the stepback jumper. With that said, he needs to start driving more, as even if he cant finish at the rim, he is still one of the best at drawing contact, and it will keep defenders guessing. Its really clear comparing his game then and now that his stepback has become predictable, whereas before, when he put his head down and drove to the elbow, he could create space as defenders were back peddling and expecting a drive. Overall though, I think this has had a small impact on the team
2. Ray used to run the offense for a large portion of the game
In seatle and milwauke, Ray was a combo guard and created his own shot. The guy average 25 points the year before being traded to us. I know that he is ancient by NBA standards, but I dont think that his athleticism or speed have actually dropped off that much. Despite his body holding up, he has completely changed his game. Its as if Ray now is a hyperbole of his old self, and I think this is largely Docs fault. Before, he used to run around screens to spot up a lot, but now it is literally ALL he does. In game 4, ray ran the offense for a large portion of the game and was constantly driving and getting finger rolls and reverse layups. I really think that he needs to return to this to some extent, and that he fully has the ability to do so. Watching him run around screens etc, he looks just as fast and athletic. However, I think that Doc has pigeon holed him into his roll as a pure shooter to some extent, and that this has become more and more true each year with the celtics. I think he has to start playing outside of the system a bit more and looking to create his own shot. I dont buy the idea that he is too old or slow to do so, as creating a shot and driving is not that much more physically demanding than sprinting laps around the arch and running off screens. I think that Ray creating for himself a bit more and being more of a focal point of the offense would help provide some variety to our offense
3. When KG gets the ball in the low post, good things happen
ALL GAME, Van Gundy keeps repeating this phrase and calling for the celtics to throw it to KG in the post. And every time kg gets the ball, he either scores, or a series of passes leads to a kick out and a 3. EVERY TIME. Again, watching him I really dont see that much of a drop off physically. Even back then, he had trouble scoring on Pau in the post. However, he's an excellent passer, and even if he cant drop his shoulder and get to the basket he still has that unstoppable turn around jumper, a shot that is impossible to block even if he can barely get off the ground. I saw a lot of post moves that I really believe that he is still capable of, and again, I think that him moving away from it is largely Docs fault, as Doc is more intent running a strict offense and having players fit into "roles" than any coach in the league.
In 2008, the big 3 each took turns running the offense. I think that the emergence of Rondo has made doc force them into very specific roles, and that our offense has become very predictable because of it. Granted, Rondo is arguably our most talented player, and we have to integrate him into the offense. However, I do not think that we need to run so many set plays and have players fit into such strict molds. In Pheonix, Nash still gets 11 assists, but I have watched a lot of their games and Nash spends less time with the ball in his hands than Rondo. They play a more fluid game, and often the ball will go back to Nash at the top of the key once the opposing teams defense has broken down, and he will then find the mismatch, or drive to the basket.
I think that if we were to start relying on Ray and KG to create their own shot a bit more, our offense could be much more fluid. In 2008, there were often times when defenses would collapse on Ray or KG, and they would dish out to House for a 3 or mid range. Obviously Rondo cant shoot like House, but House also cant drive like Rondo. I noticed that, by the time that the ball works its way out to House, the defense is already broken down and there are driving lanes or mismatches. If the ball were to come back out to rondo at the top of the key as a result of KG and Ray attacking more, Rondo would have driving lanes, or the ability to get it back to whoever has the best mismatch. This strategy also involves Rondo being much more aggressive. Not that it is anything groundbreaking, but I think that watching the 2007-2008 team really confirms what a lot of us talk about. Ray and KG are too reliant on Rondo as a facilitator, and Rondo is too focused on facilitating. I think that everyone on this team is more capable of creating their own shot than we are being led to believe, and that the lack of aggression, and reliance on set plays and strict offensive roles makes us very predictable. I think Doc is a great coach, and has an excellent vision for how the big 4 should fit together. However, I think that he has take that vision too far. All 4 of the big 4 have become hyperboles of themselves, never playing outside their comfort zone or showing any creativity. If I were Doc, I would sit the team down and make them watch the entire 2007-2008 playoff run to remind them what they are capable of, and remind them to just play the game the way they play, without trying to unnecessarily conform to rigid rolls and plays. Obviously none of them are entirely capable of what they were in 2007-2008, but I think that there is a middle ground between where they were then, and where they are now. In this middle ground, they still attack, but they also have Rondo (who is far superior to what he was in 2007-2008) to facilitate when things arent going their way.
Sorry this is so long, but its something Ive been thinking for a long time, and rewatching the glory days really confirmed it.