Hindsight is always 20/20. In a game where the Celtics shot fifty — yes, 5-0 — three-pointers in a 101-89 loss to the Bucks on Sunday afternoon, it’s easy to say that maybe Boston should have hunted for better shots. On the other hand, you have to take what defenses give you in the NBA and making eighteen of those 3’s (36%) ain’t that bad.
After practice on Tuesday, head coach Ime Udoka addressed his team’s shot selection and how it might change heading into Game 2.
“We had a lot of opportunities to attack the basket and get some easy baskets inside, some paint points, but we settled for too many contested threes. I liked a lot of the looks we got, the wide open ones, but there were opportunities to penetrate and kick and draw some guys in,” Udoka said.
Above the break threes, particularly those from the diagonals, are the lowest percentage threes in the NBA. Boston was 8-for-28 in those corners from Game 1. It’s not necessarily the shot location that makes Smart’s take here problematic. It’s the time. With Jrue Holiday closing hard on the shot, Smart could have driven the ball, touched the paint and kicked out for a better shot with fifteen seconds still on the shot clock.
Another placement issue here. Grant Williams is one of Boston’s best shooters, but with both Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton closing, Derrick White is wide open in the corner, a much more efficient shot.
Boston gets everything it wants here in semi-transition. With Holiday tripping at half court, it’s a free run for Jayson Tatum to attack the rim and swing the ball to Williams’ corner office. Grant doesn’t make a clean catch and Grayson Allen does a good job closing on him. White gets the ball with 17 seconds left on the 24-second clock and 26 seconds until the close of the 3rd. Again, consider time and place. There’s plenty of room for White to drive the ball with Brook Lopez defending three Celtics (Tatum, Horford, and himself) and the Bucks in the penalty.
It’s easy to pick apart the misses, but the theoretical math goes a little something like this. The Celtics shot 31.8% on 3’s against what Second Spectrum deemed tight to very tight defense. Trim 10 bad (read: contested) three-pointers where you might score 9 points and turn them into drives, draw fouls, and/or generate open shots and those 9 points could be 12-14. Attacking a defense that’s just camping out in the paint also logs mileage on Milwaukee’s players. In a seven-game series where the Bucks are betting they’ll shoot better than you from behind the arc and turning every game into a coin flip, everything matters.
“We shouldn’t have to take any contested threes in this series because of how they guard,” Udoka said. “You’ll get your wide open looks. It’s more so attacking the paint and we missed several drop offs at the basket.”
And here’s what can’t be really calculated. It’s hard to discount the attrition that missed shots have on a team’s shooting mentality. Get cold and every subsequent shot feels a little more important. But if you put in the work, move the ball, and create an open look for a teammate, make or miss, you can hang your hat on playing good basketball rather than hanging your head on the whims of the basketball gods.