As series go deeper into Games 5, 6, and 7, teams pass that point where there aren't anymore adjustments that can be made. It's just a matter of implementing your game plan and seeing if you can out-execute your opponent. You look at our last series against Philly and it really boiled down to whether or not Brandon Bass could hit the mid-range. How many times did we see KG doubled in the post, Rondo penetrate, and Brandon flare up to the free throw line for his patented elbow jumper? Obviously, Bass didn't shoot 25-30 times a game, but it's the one thing that the Sixers "gave" us; they tried to neutralize The Big Four (fairly well actually) by playing 5-on-4 at times and leaving BB wide open. Through four games in Eastern Conference Finals, Miami hasn't taken anything away.
Statistically, Miami's defense is on par with Philadelphia's, but in terms of match-ups with the C's, they're light years apart. According to HoopData.com, the Celtics offensive efficiency against Philadelphia was 98.51 over the seven-game series. That's around the regular season average of 98.9. In four games against the Heat, Boston is averaging 103.75. To put that in perspective, if Boston was this successful in the regular season, that would put them right behind offensive juggernauts like OKC, San Antonio, and Denver.
How are they doing it? It's clear Rondo has definitely elevated his game and what that's done is given the Celtics options. For a team that's been offensively inept all year, it sounds strange to say that, especially against one of the better defensive teams in the league. However, in the playoffs, it's all about match-ups and the Celtics have been able to capitalize on their biggest advantages: Rondo and Garnett.
In the half court set, most of their offense has been initiated with the 1-5 pick. In Games 1-2, Garnett was popping for the jumper but in both subsequent home games, there has been a more concerted effort to establish him in the paint so he's rolled to the rim more often. Rondo and Garnett have carried the team with basketball's bread-and-butter play, but Miami has adjusted their strategy in an attempt to slow them down:
Doc Rivers was expecting Miami to tinker with how they defended Rondo. Sagging off and daring him to shoot long jumpers might be a thing of the past. Much like your portfolio, in the playoffs, past performance does not guarantee future results. But for now, trapping Rondo on the pick-and-roll will likely remain en vogue.
"We just wanted to give him different looks, switch up our game plan. We know if we sag off him, he's able to read the floor better, make better plays," Heat point guard Mario Chalmers said. "If you put more pressure on him, it's harder for him to pick our defense apart."
The Heat went to that strategy at the end of Game 3, and before Game 4, Rivers said he wasn't sure if Miami would go back to it. Early into the night, he had his answer. The Heat repeatedly double-teamed Rondo after the pick, preventing him from driving the lane and creating off the dribble.
The trapping has certainly slowed Boston down. It doesn't allow Rondo much space to probe and play quarterback, but it's certainly freed up Ray and PP on the perimeter. With so much of the Heat's defense focusing on Rondo and Garnett, Doc has been able to implement a lot of misdirection on the strong side to get Ray good looks off down screens. Zach Lowe at The Point Forward had this observation:
Players seemed constantly confused, with one assuming a switch had been permanent, while the other assumed it had been temporary or chose not to commit to the switch completely. That kind of inaction and paralysis can be fatal, and it resulted in multiple open looks and offensive rebounds for Boston in both games.
And if Bass was Rondo's release valve against the Sixers, Pierce has stepped into that role against the Heat. With Miami frantically switching with Boston's early movement, The Captain has been getting the ball late in shot clocks with a mismatch. He's not shooting at a high clip, but he's getting to the line and generating team fouls on the Heat.
Against Philadelphia, the Celtics didn't have the luxury of all these options. Rondo's speed advantage over Chalmers has him running roughshod over the Heat and forced Miami to use two defenders on him. There were stretches in Game 4 when Spoelstra went to the younger, quicker guard Norris Cole and I can see him going to him tonight, but the way Rondo's playing, I don't think that's going to matter. If Cole does see the floor, I can see Doc employing the Rondo-in-the-post strategy that we haven't seen yet this post-season.
Miami may decide to key in on Ray Allen like the Sixers did. Wherever #20 was, Evan Turner or Lou Williams was chewing Allen's gum. If that's the case, it takes away Miami's best help defender in Dwayne Wade. Wade's uncanny ability to block shots coming from the weak side is unmatched, but Ray's moving around a lot better and seems to be in more Havlicekian constant motion. Even though Ray is the one guy that Miami doesn't want to get hot, they may have to live and die with him shooting outside of 23-feet.
The big question for tonight's Game 5 is if Bosh plays, what can he give them on defense. Another note from Zach Lowe:
Bosh - who has missed the last nine games - isn't an elite defender, but he's a very good one, and he brings lineup flexibility that the Heat need desperately. With him out, the Heat have been playing small constantly, and Boston has outscored them badly while playing Garnett with four wings and guards. The Celtics are minus-6 for the series but plus-27 (in 75 minutes) with that lineup on the floor, per NBA.com's stats database.
Garnett has played well against Bosh this season and with the rust, I'm betting Bosh comes out a little tentative on the defensive end. According to NBA advanced stats, Garnett is shooting a hefty 57% when facing Bosh this season. In their last meeting, Garnett lit him up for 24 points and 9 rebounds on 11-14 shooting.
I honestly think that this has nothing to do with match-ups or how Bosh plays him defensively. I just don't think Garnett likes him. KG's fire been burning pretty bright since the playoffs have started, but if Bosh comes back tonight, we might see a different level if that's even possible. For a guy that's already a soft, finesse big, he may want to stay out of this kitchen. People react to injury different but more importantly, this is the playoffs and a very physical series. By all accounts, Bosh hasn't even participated in a full contact practice and he now has to bang bodies with Garnett and 250 lbs. of Brandon Bass.
As of 12:12 pm EST, Bosh is still a "game-time decision":
Spoelstra on Bosh: "That'll be a gametime decision. ... The last 2 days he's been able to do real basketball work."— Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) June 5, 2012
Everyone keeps saying gametime decision on Bosh, but between the lines it sure sounds like he's in for tonight.— Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) June 5, 2012