How the Celtics fared against the league's best defense

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The mark of a great team is their ability to get easy buckets. Last night, the Celtics won the battle in the Green Triangle, but lost the war 94-83. Let's dig deeper into the trenches.

At the beginning of the year, Tom Ziller introduced the concept of the Green Triangle.  No, that's not Brad Stevens' version of Tex Winters' vaunted offense.  In Tom's words:

"...we have these three types of shots -- shots in the restricted area, corner threes and free throws -- which are much more effective than all other shots. It's worth noting that league average effective field goal percentage for all shots (including free throws) last season was 53.4 percent.

The three shot types that make up what I'll dub the Green Triangle all have average conversion rates well above that. All other shot types are less efficient than the league-average shooting possession."

Simply put, you're going to want to generate as many shots as possible in the most effective areas on the court.  In three previous games against the Pacers, the Celtics got housed by 15 points, 27 points, and in grinder game ten days ago by 5.  Let's check out the Green Triangle stats, including last night's box score:

FREE THROWS RESTRICTED AREA CORNER THREES
11/22 @ BOSTON CELTICS 7-9 17-30 1-3

PACERS 15-18 21-36 0-2
12/22 @ INDIANA CELTICS 9-13 11-25 2-3
PACERS 15-22 22-35 3-6
3/1 @ BOSTON CELTICS 14-17 14-28 2-3
PACERS 19-23 20-32 0-0
3/11 @ INDIANA CELTICS 16-19 17-40 0-4
PACERS 10-13 18-23 0-3

By the time the Celtics' rebuild is turning the corner, it'll be the Pacers (and maybe the Bulls) that Boston will have to beat and they're getting better.  A loss is a loss is a loss is a loss, but the Celtics are improving against the new beast of the East.  One of the most glaring statistics in their four-game sweep by the Pacers has been their improvement on the boards.  In their first two blowout losses against Indy, the Celtics were out-rebounded 94-72 and 24-11 on the offensive glass.  Since then, Boston has matched Indiana in their last two games with a striking advantage of 32-12 in offensive rebounding.  Sure, that's also a number that suggests a lot of missed shots, but let's not forget how Doc Rivers' insistence on getting back on D.

Last night, Jackie Mac and Mike Gorman also pointed out how much the Celtics were challenging Roy Hibbert with high pick and rolls and driving the ball to the rim.  Throughout the season and specifically since Rondo's return, the Celtics have been a pick and pop team with bigs like Sullinger, Bass, Humphries, and Olynyk all capable bigs that can hit the 15-footer.  However last night, you could tell that there was a concerted effort to force the issue in the restricted area and get to the line.

Rondo_sullinger_pick_and_roll_medium

Normally, Sullinger would pop out for a free throw line jumper, but he follows Rondo to the rim here.  Notice how he's ready for the pass the entire time.

Bass_fouled_roll_medium

Two more examples with Brandon Bass.  As we've all come to realize, BB takes a little longer to gather, but he always takes it strong with both hands.  He gets fouled on both possessions, but he's an excellent free throw shooter so that's O.K.

Chris_johnson_back_door_medium

Johnson_back_door_medium

Love those two plays because they involve Chris Johnson.  Forsberg had a great story on him last night and how his energy sparked the comeback.  In both sets, the rolls are available and Rondo chooses to drive.  With the paint clogged up, Johnson finds two cutting lanes and Rondo finds him twice for easy lay ups.

Bass_or_rondo_lay_up_medium

Face_up_bb_medium

Rondo_d_medium

Rondo shot a paltry 4-15 but keep in mind that ten of his shots came in the paint.  He'll always be a pass first point guard but he's shown flashes of his creative scoring.

After Bass rips down one of 20 offensive rebounds last night, he finds Rondo with the one-on-one mismatch on Hibbert.  Even with his new found range, Rondo doesn't try and hit a J in Roy's face; he calmly resets the offense and breaks Hibbert off the dribble.

The second GIF is classic Rondo.  Before the play starts, you can hear Rajon yell out, "face up, BB!  Face up!"  He knows that Bynum will have to respect Bass' jumper and that subsequently pulls him out of the paint.  He runs a simple pick-and-pop with Humphries and as soon as he freezes the defense with the high dribble and gets his shoulder past David West, he's gone.

That last Rondo Dream Shake GIF reminded me of this and then I got all warm and cuddly inside.

Tonight, the Knicks are without their two bigs, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire, and I hope that the aggressiveness doesn't go away.  They won't have Rondo to drive the ball and draw the defense, but I'd expect Green and maybe even Pressey or Bayless to step up here.  Green missed so many bunnies last night and he could easily cut up New York's swiss cheese defense.

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