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On the 3-1 Screen Roll

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A Daily Babble Production

Sometimes, the simple solution is best.  Especially when it comes to getting good looks for Paul Pierce.

As ESPN's Mark Jones noted during the telecast of last night's Celtics-Hawks game (and we touched on earlier this season), the Celtics seem to be growing increasingly reliant on the 3-1 screen roll for Pierce, particularly late in games.

I love it, particularly when Eddie House is on the floor.

Let's semi-disclaim the following by throwing out the warning ahead of time that this is purely anecdotal.  I haven't found a site that breaks down the regularity with which the Celtics run their offensive sets, and I've yet to do the necessary film study to take care of this manually.  But as i observed in November, it seems the Celtics are using the 3-1 screen play with far greater regularity than they did a season ago.

It's as simple as it gets.  The C's put the ball in Paul Pierce's hands coming up court.  The point guard - usually House, though they do occasionally try to run this with Rajon Rondo - screens Pierce's man between the foul line and top of the key.  House rolls hard off his screen back out to the perimeter opposite Pierce, usually going toward the left wing as the captain brings the ball back to his right. 

Suddenly, the Celtics are likely to have at least one of two favorable looks.  If the defenders try to go through the screen, Pierce can give the ball right to House, an excellent three-point shooter with one of the quickest releases in the game.  Few defenders going through that screen are going to be able to get to House in time to contest his shot with any efficacy.  This means that the defense is probably going to have to switch on the screen because the trigger-happy House is always a threat to start scoring in bunches from the outside. 

The switch, of course, is even better for the Celtics.  It matches up Paul Pierce with a point guard, usually at the top of the key.  As long as the rest of the Celtics space the floor, the defense is in trouble.  With a smaller defender on him, Pierce can get himself an easy look for a foul line jumper that he knows won't be adequately contested, or he can pound the defender even further inside and look to overpower him going to the rim. 

Again, this is wholly anecdotal, but it seems as though the Celtics look to go to this set in the fourth quarter more than at any other point.  Maybe it has something to do with Pierce's tendency to take over when the game hangs in the balance; maybe not.  The three games that come to mind when it was particularly useful are the Toronto game in the second week of November and both Atlanta games.  All three games were close in the fourth quarter, and in all three instances, the Celtics got buckets by getting Jose Calderon and Mike Bibby switched onto The Truth, who promptly abused them.  Pulling up from 12 to 17 feet seems to be Paul's bread and butter in those situations, and he is lethal from that distance without a defender being physically able to literally get in his face. 

The set clearly works best with House because of his outside shooting touch.  The Celts have tried it with Rondo in a few instances (as they did last night), and it predictably hasn't seen as much success because opponents rightfully would much rather make Rondo beat them with an outside shot than give Pierce the mismatch he wants.  The principal hope is that Rondo's jumper improves over time to the point that defenses have to respect him from there.  For now, I wouldn't mind seeing the team try to utilize the 3-1 screen with him as well by having him look to attack the rim off the screen.  Last night in particular, Rondo did a good job of moving without the ball in general and getting himself lay-ups off of basket cuts while the bigs had the ball on the wings and low block.  As long as the Celtics make sure they clear the low post big man to the opposite block to avoid clogging the lane, rolling Rondo toward the rim from time to time could wreak havoc on opponents thanks to the point guard's quickness and explosiveness around the basket. 

Though the preference here remains to reserve it at least a bit more for when Eddie House is on the floor, the 3-1 screen roll set for Paul Pierce has become a successful part of the Celtics' offensive repertoire.  It is hard for defenses to play effectively, it gets the Celtics at least two good looks and it doesn't involve reliance on anyone whose next legal screen this season will be his first.  Kudos to Doc and the coaching staff for successfully integrating this look into the offense.