There's a misconception out there explaining the glaring free throw disparity from Game 2: the Celtics are a jump-shooting team and don't attack the rim. Although this is generally true, this wasn't the case Wednesday night. According to HoopData.com's detailed box score, the Celtics were equally aggressive at the rim with 25 shots to Miami's 26. Conversely, Miami shot ten more three pointers with the Celtics scoring most of their points from the long two.
The difference in free throws didn't come from shooting fouls either; Miami generated 14 shooting fouls on Boston, with the Heat getting whistled 12 times against the Celtics. The glaring difference really was the amount of team fouls: 33-18. Three Celtics fouled out whereas little-used Joel Anthony had the most for the Heat with only 4. Through four quarters and overtime, Boston spent 16:54 in the penalty vs. 12:06 for Miami. Those five minutes may seem inconsequential in a 53-minute game but considering it produced a +18 in FTA in Miami's favor, it can not be overlooked with everything else being fairly equal.
Some credit it to home court advantage. There's definitely some truth to that. Consider this: of the four remaining playoff teams, Miami is the only team that averages more free throws at home than on the road and it's not even close. At home, the Heat are averaging 32.5 FTA at AAA and 24.6 on the road. Sure, we can chalk that up to the importance of the regular season and the advantage of gaining HCA, but Boston (20.7 FTA home, 22.4 FTA away), OKC (24.3/24.8), and San Antonio (22.7/23.6) do not enjoy the same home cooking.
And then there's the superstar argument. Superstars get superstar calls and Lebron and Wade are superstars. To some extent, I get that. It's the NBA and if you're a fan, that's what you sign up for, but like most Celtics fans, one of the big reasons we love this team so much is because of their defense. Is it just me or do you guys love being able to predict and call out all the defensive rotations on the fly? My heart starts racing when the shot clock gets under 7 seconds and I start yelling at the TV, "lock him down, Mickael!" Thibodeau was on D&C this morning talking about the officiating and how the Celtics have to adjust to the refs:
There has been a lot of talk about the officiating in the two games in Miami. While acknowledging some issues, Thibodeau said the C's need to keep their focus.
"That was a tough no-call for [Rondo] in the overtime. And he did get hit," Thibodeau said. "But a couple of times that happens. Unfortunately, it was very untimely for the Celtics. ... Those things sometimes are tough to deal with, but you have to respond."
Added Thibodeau: "These guys are great officials. The players have to make some adjustments. I thought they had some tough calls go against them, but you also have to look at the fouls that maybe you could have avoided also."
As much as I love Thibs, I have to disagree with him. Lebron and to some extent Wade are physical offensive players. Lebron in particular uses his size and strength to try and bowl you over to create space. They force the action and invite contact and at some point, you have to be able to fight fire with fire. Stiemer's four fouls in under two minutes shouldn't happen. Superstar or not, you should be able to body guys up if they're banging up against you. Their superstars are Lebron and Wade and although Rondo is clearly becoming a marquee name in this league, the Celtics' superstar has always been its defense and the NBA shouldn't penalize us for that. For what it's worth, Miami and Boston are two of the playoffs' best defensive teams, allowing 87 and 86.6 points respectively. The Celtics are averaging 21 fouls per game with the Heat at 20.5. Officiating shouldn't be story but when anomalies like Game 2 happen, it becomes an issue.
Doc has subtly lobbied against the refs in the playoffs before and been successful. In the 2010 NBA Finals, the Big Three had to sit large portions of the first three games in foul trouble. After Doc called out the officiating, the tenor of the games changed and the C's won Games 4 and 5 at home and took a 3-2 lead. I can see similar results tonight and Sunday night. Conspiracy theorists (and Tim Donaghy) will say that Stern will try and extend the Eastern Conference Finals now that it looks like OKC is back in the fight against San Antonio after last night's blowout, but Doc's I-won't-talk-about-the-refs-but-I'm-clearly-talking-about-the-refs comments and Danny's conversation with Joe Borgia (the NBA's officiating supervisor) will have an affect tonight:
"They are going to shoot a lot of free throws but we have to as well. I thought [Rajon] Rondo was extremely aggressive last night, and I thought Paul was aggressive last night, even more so when you watch the film. Paul is a powerful guy and there's a lot of contact as well when he drives. We just want them to continue to be aggressive. You know LeBron and [Dwyane] Wade will be and there's nothing wrong with that, that's who they are. You know going into it: Yeah, they're going to get to the free throw line. We have to do that as well and we have to do it by being just as aggressive."
My concern tonight is that there's going to be a more concerted effort to try and get to the line rather than running the offense as constructed and that might hurt us. If Pierce and Garnett try to become more active in the paint just to get fouled for the sake of getting fouled, that might disrupt the flow and take Rondo out of the game literally and mentally. The Celtics shot 16 free throws in Game 1 and 18 in Game 2; those aren't great numbers and we could definitely use more, but I hope the biggest difference tonight and Sunday will not be how many times Boston gets to the line. It'll be how few times Miami gets there. It's not that the Celtics aren't getting calls. It's that the Heat are getting too many. I can understand rewarding a team for being aggressive on offense, but teams that focus that aggression on defense should be afforded that same respect. I think Doc's comments about Pierce's aggressiveness is a smoke screen because ultimately, he's really looking for a little more leeway on the defensive side of the ball. The Truth of the matter is, PP's banged up. He can't penetrate as easily as he has in the past. However, he's still playing pretty good defense on Lebron and it's in the half court head-to-head battles on D that Pierce needs to win.