When the analytics movement came sweeping through the NBA, the primary idea was that three-point shots were more valuable than anything taken outside of four feet from the rim. There's math to support those equations, and the analytics have been proven true for the most part. There’s one glaring flaw: you have to make threes for them to hold value.
There's a saying from an old South Park episode where the boys are learning to ski: "if you pizza instead of french-fry, you're going to have a bad time." Boston french-fried, and we all suffered because of it.
You see, the problem with the analytical movement is it's left teams looking at the mid-range area with a stink face. Unless you're an elite shooter, those middies aren't on the menu; they're à la carte, and most players are more Olive Garden. That's why so many teams feel no way about running drop coverage for 30 minutes a night, because they know the mid-range area is out of most players' price range.
Except Boston has some reliable threats from that area. Guys can cut across the free-throw line extended and work behind the perimeter defense. Josh Richardson and Jaylen Brown are two of those guys, yet conventional wisdom wants them hovering around the perimeter. Spacing rules all in the modern NBA, even if it nullifies some of your best scoring weapons, it would seem.
And so, Boston conforms, despite struggling from deep all year and missing their best scorer. The result? An absurd amount of threes despite it becoming increasingly evident their shots weren't falling on the night. Of course, you don't abandon the three-point line altogether, but you should sure as hell limit the attempts while you try and build a lead.
Basketball is about winning first and foremost. The style in which you do it should be an afterthought - especially while you're short-handed. Alas, Boston went style over substance and clanked brick after brick as a result.
"We moved the ball and got a lot of great shots, wide-open looks, but they didn't go down. We could have made some shots, but then also the little stuff, we didn't take care of. The little stuff that we didn't execute on, transition opportunities, we gotta take advantage of 3-on-2's and 2-on-1's, and we didn't, and we lost…again," Jaylen Brown said after his horrific shooting night.
Brown is already 1-for-5 from deep on this clip, but again, he chooses to take the shot with a defender closing out on him. Brick. The Brown of old would have pump-faked, waited for the defender to bite, and then attacked the close-out. From there, you have an offensive advantage on your hands rather than a prayer of a shot.
Yet, the Celtics' reliance on beating teams from three continues to castrate other aspects of their players’ games. Of course, most of the Celtics' struggles from deep came from the invisible lid the Clippers placed on the basket during pre-game, but when you go back and watch the game, Boston was getting success when attacking the paint.
Take this possession, for example. Josh Richardson touches the paint before kicking out to Al Horford above the break. The veteran big fakes the shot, gets the bite from his defender, and runs the lane for an easy deuce. When threes aren't falling, get to the rim.
And if the Clippers are running zone defense, or have Ivica Zubac in drop, utilize your mid-range scorers — to hell with what the analytics tell you.
The Celtics took eight long mid-range shots, which is fine, but that's where the space is against a team like the Clippers. Why not run some Iverson plays (screens on one or both elbows, with a cutter from one wing to the other) to open up some scoring or driving options in an area the team is gifting you?
Where is the ingenuity from Ime Udoka and the coaching staff? Boston clearly lacks an elite playmaker, so the coach has to step up and help guide the offense with his adjustments. Instead, we reverted to the 2020-21 Celtics, where high pick-and-rolls coupled with open shots that clank out are our diet.
"Despite what the statistics say, if you got an open shot, you gotta shoot it. I tell Romeo, I tell Payton, I tell myself, ‘if you're open, you got a good look, you gotta take it.’ I got some good looks tonight, I know I shot the ball probably the most I've ever shot iN my career, and I missed some, missed some shots at the basket," Brown said of the team's astronomically low-scoring percentage.
There is no success from deep, but tangible results at the rim, yet the idea is to keep shooting? Perhaps there's something to allowing your players to work through their struggles, but when it's the entire team, something has to change at that moment. Especially when you've proven to yourself that you can get whatever you want when running actions for slashers.
You can point to COVID absences or even some tired legs with players stepping into more significant roles, but the fact of the matter is, this Celtics team is lacking self-awareness. Whether it be Udoka or the players, you need to recognize that the roster is short on shooting talent but bursting with explosive rim finishers.
Of course, you still take threes to maintain the spacing, but it's a means to an end, not the hill you come out willing to die on.
Shooting wasn't the only issue last night, and neither was Brown's "do it all" mentality - he tried and fought for the cause. There's no shame in that. But, a 34.7% shooting night is inexcusable for a team that had visions of a playoff run before the season started.
It's time Boston started going against the grain and playing to their strengths rather than what their spreadsheets tell them, at least until the roster is nearing full strength.