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A Series of Unfortunate Events

Down TimesThe ending of last night’s game against Golden State consisted of a series of plays that both led to the first Celtics’ loss in 6 games and the prolonged absence of Captain Paul Pierce for the next three weeks.

The Celtics had foul trouble all evening and Don Nelson’s unorthodox lineup helped to scatter Boston’s offensive attack. The Celtics couldn’t establish and inside game and got pulled into a perimeter-oriented attack. Despite the innumerable unforced turnovers, the team was able to muster enough composure to make this a one possession game going down the stretch.

Fast forward to just around the 3-minute mark in the fourth quarter, when the Celtics began to regain their composure. This is the time where three key events led to an eventual loss. The first major blow to the team’s attempt to get over the top and take the game came at the free throw line. After failing to make a sustained effort to establish themselves in the post all night, Al Jefferson got fed the ball on three possessions. Jefferson continued to show his effectiveness down low by drawing fouls and free throws on all three possessions.

With the team in the bonus, this was the perfect strategy to implement, as Jefferson is extremely hard to defend without fouling when he’s making his moves close to the basket. However, Jefferson could only convert on two out of six of his attempts culminating in consecutive misses on his last trip to the line. Those final misses may have broken the team’s confidence in going to him afterward and the Celtics had to search for points from the perimeter thereafter. As Jefferson progresses in his maturity and becomes accustom to shooting pressure free throws, this strategy should serve the team well. Jefferson has shown the makings of a solid free throw shooter and is very effective in spurts, but will need more repetition to raise his percentage to where it can be. But, on this night it was the first of the key elements that conspired to lead the team to a loss.

{styleboxjp width=300px,float=left,color=black,textcolor=white,echo=yes}The second major error occurred on the last possession of the game, before Pierce got the ball.{/styleboxjp} Many people were questioning Doc River’s decision not to call a timeout, but that is a mere judgment call that only looks preferable in hindsight. River’s philosophy has been to put the player’s in situations to make their own decisions, which is a style that mirrors other successful coaches around the league. In the end the players must read the defense, understand the scenario, and make the plays that are needed to win the game. On the last play of the game, Delonte West failed to do so.

West was pressed into increased duty at point guard due to Monta Ellis’ limited playing time and the shear size of Baron Davis. West had his moments in the game, though Davis was not to be denied on this night. West even hit two clutch shots after having an abysmal night from the field until that point. But, on the final possession West made a critical error in judgment that is an essential component of being an effective point guard.

The final possession was designed to go to Paul Pierce, that is the team’s M.O. and the absolute correct decision in a single possession game with Boston in control of the final shot. Nothing else during the fourth quarter made sense as Pierce was having a solid shooting night and the offense in general had not been able to establish a rhythm which would suggest another option.

However, When West brought the ball up to the right side of the arc, Pierce was already being shadowed by three defenders. Pierce’s own man had his hand squarely on Pierce’s backside and there was a defender on either side of him within one stride of closing him up in a box. With Pierce facing away from the basket, there was no chance for him to catch quickly and beat the trap once he caught the ball. But, West passed him the ball anyways and the resultant jump ball with .6 seconds on the clock essentially ended the game.

Whether it be confidence or experience, West should have broken the play by recognizing the defensive set-up. The floor was spaced nicely and Both Tony Allen Ryan Gomes and Jefferson had plenty of space to operate due to the defensive attention that Pierce was receiving. Their was also ample time on the clock to swing the ball away from Pierce and allow him to move into a more effective position to score. In time, the younger players on this team should be able to recognize these scenarios and be equipped to adjust accordingly, but on this night it was the second major factor that cost this team a chance at a win.

The third scenario that finally sealed Boston’s fate was after Pierce caught the ball. As has been discovered this morning, Pierce’s foot prevented him from being able to make a hard cut to the basket. Whether or not that cut would have resulted in a shot attempt or a turnover is uncertain, but the Warrior’s defense certainly was in a position to force Pierce into an extremely low percentage look regardless.

Pierce’s back was to the play when he initially received the ball and when he turned and saw the defense it looked as if he wanted to try and get a quick step back jumper off. That would have been the ideal shot for him in that scenario because it would have given Allen, Gomes, and Jefferson time to coral an offensive rebound, which might have been highly probable based off the positioning of the defense against Pierce.

But, Pierce couldn’t get the shot off as he was harassed by Jason Richardson, who played him strongly all night. At that point a timeout was the most prudent courts of action. But, Pierce hesitated and attempted to free himself once more which allowed the three defenders on him to tie him up and force the jump ball. Once that happened it was all over.

None of these players can be blamed for their situational reactions because all had mitigating circumstances surrounding their ability to execute in each of the three aforementioned scenarios. If the rest of the game had not transpired as it had the team would never have been in the situation that led to those three critical junctures, such is the way the ball bounces. But, for this team at this time the execution wasn’t there to pull out what River’s likes to call the “ugly games” which is another type of game that good team’s win.

{styleboxjp width=300px,float=right,color=black,textcolor=white,echo=yes}Now that Pierce is going to be absent for upwards of three weeks, the Celtic’s will essentially be playing “the roster of the future.”{/styleboxjp} It will obviously hurt the Celtic’s chances at short-term success to have both their veteran scorers out for this time period, but in the long view this could be an excellent exorcise for the youth of this team to build confidence and self-reliance.

Jefferson appears to be the de facto go-to player with the captain on the shelf and he will undoubtedly be faced with a number of pressure free throws as well as the attention and responsibility of being the leading man. Without the Presence of Pierce as a crutch, West will be faced with situations that will force him to make decisions based off of what’s presented to him, with no easy option evident.

For the rest of this squad, this will be an opportunity to take the reigns and show their mettle. Allen, Gomes, Telfair, and Green are going to be expected to perform in a way that has not been put on them before. They are no longer the supporting cast during Pierce and Szczerbiak’s absence; they are the main performers and must fight to build an identity quickly. So much has been made of how close this group of promising youth is off the basketball court, over the next three weeks, we shall see if that camaraderie can translate itself into an effective hierarchy on the hardwood. With the captain watching them perform, it may be just the opportunity this team has needed to transform itself into a collection of peers instead of a group of youngsters following Pierce.

{mos_smf_discuss:Celtics Talk}