There's been a lot of talk about the offense since the Celtics dropped Game 2. Some credit is due to the Sixers; they were the third best defensive team in the regular season in terms of points per game (89.4) and are putting up even better numbers in the playoffs (84.9). Part of it is that the Celtics are a jump-shooting team and jump-shooting teams can get streaky. Last night's second and third quarters notwithstanding, Boston is shooting at almost an identical clip in the regular and post-season. From 10-15 feet, the Celtics averaged 3.6 makes to 8.8 attempts in the regular season and 3.75 makes to 8.88 attempts in the playoffs. From 16-23 feet, the Celtics averaged 9.8 makes to 23.7 attempts in the regular season and 9.75 makes to 24.38 attempts in the playoffs. It's scary how identical those numbers are. And of course, there are the injuries. Pierce's sprained MCL has robbed him of his explosiveness and Ray's bone spurs have him shooting 61% from the free throw line. And can you imagine this team with Jeff Green, Jermaine O'Neal, and Chris Wilcox right now?
But even with all these obstacles, the Celtics are winning, can continue to win, and raise #18. Doc's a great X's and O's guy and he's masterful drawing up plays out of timeouts to find the right shot for the right guy, but not every play can be perfectly diagrammed and executed. There are about 90 possessions in a game and basketball is a free-flowing sport where nothing can really be scripted, but sometimes, you just have to simplify. Basketball is just one giant game of Choose Your Own Adventure: there's usually two different paths and each has their own consequences. If you cut off someone's lane to the basket, they can pull up for a jumper. If you try and go over a screen, you might get caught and they can drive right past you. With the Celtics, their offense has bogged down at times and sometimes, in key situations. It's as if they forget that they're one of the most talented teams in the league and no matter the scheme, they'll be able to attack any defense. Boston is equipped to deal with either The Lady or The Tiger.
For what its worth, this is what seems to be working right now (and frankly, for the last five years):
Start the possession with a 1-4 PnR on the weak side. According to MySynergySports.com, the Celtics rank 2nd in the playoffs scoring efficiently with the pick-and-roll and it makes up 17.2% off their plays. With Avery or Ray camped out in the corner, I like the pick-and-roll action between Rondo and Bass to jump start the half court offense for three reasons:
- It puts the ball in our most dynamic player's hands. This seems like a simple point, but there are times when Rondo (and/or Doc) defer to Pierce to initiate the offense. With Pierce a little gimpy, he hasn't been as good with the ball in his hands. They've been trapping him in picks and that's lead to a lot of turnovers and transition.
- Some fans are clamoring to bench Brandon Bass and I could not disagree with this more. Although his shooting is a little down (38.5% in the post-season vs. 48% in the regular season from 16-23 feet), he's still an integral part of the offense. His mid-range jumper forces his man (Elton Brand) to not cheat in the paint and honor his shot. Brand isn't the most intimidating help defender, but he's a decent shot blocker and good rebounder.
- Making Rondo the focal point of the offense engages him right off the bat. He's faced some criticism from fans accusing him of not being aggressive for all 48 minutes. With a 1-3 PnR less of an option because of Pierce's knee, Rondo has to be the primary playmaker in transition and the half court.
If the Celtics had gotten to the line, they might have been able to win the game despite their poor shooting stretch. Boston attempted only nine free throws in the game. In 1,879 playoff games over the last 25 years, the Celtics are one of only eight home teams to attempt fewer than 10 free throws.
"We're not sure where those spots are yet," Doc Rivers said. "Usually with Paul, the elbow ISOs are great, but right now he can't get away from anybody with his leg. We're going to go to more pin downs for him and do different things. You usually didn't have to get a body off of him. He can usually shake the body on his own. I think, now we have to use him a lot like Ray [Allen] and bring him off screens."
Like the rest of the NBA, the 76ers haven't come up with an adequate answer to Garnett's long range shooting, and he's been able to take advantage of the Sixers in the post, where he can create shots for himself and, and when doubled, for his teammates. Philadelphia's wing defenders present a tenacious and largely interchangeable thicket. The Celtics' only reliable ways through involve Garnett. Even when he's not the focal point of a pick and roll, or a post-up, he's also Boston's best screener. On his least taxing offensive plays he's still throwing his body around, colliding with 76ers, in an effort to spring his teammates free.
With the team so banged up, Garnett's been the team's first option, but I can understand why Doc tried to get the rest of the team involved in the first half on Monday night. Garnett only took three shots in the first half, in part because the Sixers doubled often but mainly because Garnett didn't ground-and-pound as much. I think he and Doc understand that for the Celtics to be successful, they're going to need more efforts like that Game 4 offensive explosion.
The Celtics and lived and died with their mid-range game all year and generally, they've been pretty good at it. Down 1 with ten seconds left, sure. I'd love to see Ticket on the block with the ball in his hands, but over the course of an entire game, I want Rondo distributing the ball, Bass being his release valve, Ray and Avery working off the ball, and Pierce slashing.