During the eight-game preseason, the Celtics knocked down 82 out of 230 threes. At that pace, they would have lead the league in attempts last season at a 35.7% clip, good for 18th in the league. After a year lost to Rondo's recovery and a season reeling from a trade that sent away the team's heart and soul to Brooklyn, Boston had seemingly started to find its identity, but alas:
Live by the three, ...get impaled and die an excruciating death by the three. #celtics
— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) November 2, 2014
This is what I was worried about all during training camp. Would Boston's exhibition success be the emperor's new clothes come the regular season? Forget about winning championship. Could a team win consistently shooting consistently from the outside? For Brad Stevens, the value of the three point shot certainly has value on the scoreboard and I'm sure that's borne out of the analytics, and on the floor, it has its tactical advantages. Keeping the hot-shooting pair of bigs in Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk outside the arc spaces the floor for the motion offense. After the blow out win on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett mentioned that he was impressed with Boston's new schemes and before today's game, Kevin McHale remarked on the uniqueness of Stevens' offense:
"If you keep Sullinger and Olynyk on the perimeter, you make a lot of bigger guys into fish out of water out there trying to guard them. Then the guys cut and have some movement behind them. They get layups on cuts and stuff like that. And Sullinger and Olynyk can both shoot the ball good enough that you've got to at least be out there on them.
"It's a different type team, and I think Brad (Stevens) does a really good job with them."
Rondo said last night that "they took us out of our spots ... We started our offense 27 feet away from the basket." Unfortunately, that's a lot of where the offense ended, too. The problem last night wasn't the number of threes the Celtics took or frankly the number of threes that they missed. It was the fact that a majority of the shots behind the arc weren't aggressive threes. In the new offense, the triple is punishment for opposing defense: punishment for not rotating, punishment for leaving a big man on the perimeter, and punishment for committing to a drive. No. 4 on Boston's WE WILL board is "play unselfishly with pace and space to get great shots." That rarely happened against the Rockets.
In these first four misses, Houston is practically daring Boston to shoot the three. Check out the beginning of the first clip. McHale knows that Stevens intends to space the floor with Olynyk and Sullinger and yet, look at the room that Dwight gives Kelly. That's zero respect for KO's outside shot. Later, the Rockets go under screens, gamble too much in the passing lanes, and rotate and close slowly and even with that said, the Celtics couldn't buy a bucket.
I clipped these GIFs from the NBA.com/stats website and they mercifully clipped a few of the misses early enough so that we don't have to see some of these shots clank off the rim. Thank you, NBA.com/stats. Nevertheless, that's a good corner three by Jeff Green. The only guy playing defense is the Rockets fan in the front row with the yellow hat.
A corner ball miss from Smart and an above-the-break brick from Sullinger. Both shots coming with plenty of time in the shot clock. Isaiah Canaan and Terrence Jones, two of Houston's better defenders, close hard on both shots. This is a bit of second-guessing, but down 14, I'd rather see a hard drive by Marcus and a ball reversal from Sully.
Ah, yes. The three pointer in transition and semi-transition. Theoretically, it's a good shot because the defense hasn't had time to set, but you also don't give yourself a chance at an offensive rebound and often times, your momentum is moving you forward causing in these cases Olynyk's shot to go strong and Thornton's to the left.
This is the disaster portion of this scary movie. Three ISO's for Green lead to rushed threes with the shot clock expiring. In each case, Green had an advantage on the defensively challenged James Harden, but passed out of them. Ugh.
With 5:07 left in the third, Boston had actually chipped away at the 20+ point lead and cut it down to 11. Most of these are wide open.
I actually thought Marcus was going to hit that half court heave because it was still Opposite Day in the central time zone.
Didn't see a lot of this last night, but we could have used a lot more of aggressive Evan Turner probing the the paint, sucking in the defense, and kicking out to open shooters. A Brandon Bass corner three would have made last night's loss at least a moral victory. The sheer joy on BB's face when he hit this one in a preseason game at Brooklyn made my week.
The team went for a 3-hour dinner after arriving in Houston on Friday. Everybody had yips for dessert.
And that's the one that finally goes down. Jeff Green from the parking lot. And of course, he promptly air balls the next one because the basketball gods are nothing if not fair.
I'll throw in the last two of Marcus Smart calling for rain (RIP, PSH) to get it all out of our system.
Stevens seemed almost defensive about the team's near 0-fer by saying, "hey, if we throw in five threes instead of one, it's a totally different game." But just as the preseason was a small sample size, last night's loss is even smaller. It's a very ugly anomaly, but an outlier that the team can throw out and hope that tomorrow's tilt with Dallas brings good luck.
The big question going forward this season and in terms of the bigger picture of the team rebuild is that whether or not this system is sustainable. Is Brad Stevens playing the hand he's been dealt or simply evolving with the ever-changing NBA game? Will future free agents and potential draft picks be attracted to Boston's run-and-gun style? Many teams have fallen in love and found regular season success with the three point shot, but it's rarely a recipe for a championship. The sky isn't falling, but what will the team do when the shot isn't?