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The Celtics, Ish Smith, and the meddlesome mid-range

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Boston Celtics v Washington Wizards Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

When Brad Stevens became the Celtics head coach, he was considered an “analytics guy.” He brought his stats expert, Drew Cannon, from Butler to Boston to crunch the numbers and has embraced the NBA’s modernization of the game since he started in 2014. By now, the revolution of the game is obvious: more threes, more attempts at the rim, and fewer long-2’s. Offenses and defenses have adjusted accordingly.

But then there are nights like yesterday’s underwhelming loss to the Wizards.

If you’re a fan of Moneyball--more so the movie than the book--you know there are extenuating circumstances on any given night. Players get hot and sometimes, there’s just magic in the air. That’s why despite all we know about the numbers and water finding its level and the insignificance of small sample size, we get lost in the moment and romanticize the game.

After the 99-94 loss in Washington, Stevens was complimentary to Ish Smith and his 27 points, including 14 on 6-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter. ““Ish is good, real good,” Stevens said. “I don’t know if you watch the Denver game, but he was ridiculous in that one, too. Fourth quarter, he was amazing. He’s on skates right now and he’s feeling in a great rhythm.”

Even with that said, Stevens knows that his defense was giving up shots that they want the Wiz to take. On the season, the Celtics are in the middle of the pack when it comes to allowing mid-range shots (12.3 per game). Teams are shooting 40.3% (around the league average) on those shots and Boston will gladly give up that number.

At Capital One Arena on Monday night, Washington shot 13-for-23 (56.5%) between the paint and three-point line, in large part due to Smith catching fire in the fourth.

Boston’s drop pick-and-roll coverage is fairly standard. Usually, the big will drop down in order to defend a drive and hopefully entice a mid-range pull up from fifteen feet. Smith, however, doesn’t settle and instead, forces the switch and takes the retreating defender off the dribble. Here’s Stevens again:

When he gets going down hills at your bigs, he does a great job. If he doesn’t have a layup, he keeps the dribble alive, dribbling it back out and going one-on-one — he did that on a number of occasions — put your defense in a bind when a guy like (Anzejs) Pasecniks is rolling hard to the rim with great energy. And so, we didn’t handle it great, but he also made a lot of tough shots.

Enes Kanter gets a lot of grief for his defense, but this is exactly the kind of shot Boston’s D wants to force.

Later in the quarter, Brad Wanamaker does a great job recovering from the screen, but it’s just a matter of great offense beating good defense.

Jaylen Brown had a shorter but less sweet assessment of the game, “you have to give credit where credit is due. They kicked our ass.” Maybe the spunky Wizards who were without seven (!) rotation players played with a little more hustle. Maybe the Celtics are feeling the effects of their third game in four nights (with another back-to-back in Boston against the Spurs on Wednesday and in Philadelphia on Thursday). Or maybe Washington just made shots that, well, we want them to take.