This game was the story of two units, as the Celtics starters played a beautiful offensive first quarter, shooting 68 percent (13-of-19) to scoot out to a 31-18 lead. And then the bench mob came in and played some ugly, ugly basketball in the second quarter, and by the time Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins came back into the game with 6:30 or so left, the Clippers were ahead 37-36.
The Celts played the first 2:30 of that six minute span with a lineup of Paul Pierce, Eddie House, Glen Davis, Mikki Moore and Stephon Marbury. That group scored twice on five possessions. Then Doc inserted Bill Walker for Pierce. That lineup scored just once in six trips, and the offense, predictably, looked confused. You had Glen Davis taking a step-back jumper, Bill Walker throwing up a floater (that went in) and Davis forcing an air ball at the rim.
The Clips, meanwhile, scored on eight of 12 trips down the floor (17 points total) and exposed one of the weaknesses of the C’s when both Garnett and Perkins are off the floor: an inability to protect the defensive glass consistently. Chris Kaman grabbed three offensive boards, two of which led to scores (a Kaman put-back and a Fred Jones three).
The starters came out slowly in the third before putting the game away with a 31-10 run that stretched between the third and the fourth. Not by coincidence, the run started when KG, who hadn’t taken a shot since the first quarter, scored on a post-up from the right block and then again on a transition alley-hoop from Rondo.
This bench-starter gap doesn’t concern me much. The bench line-ups Doc is using now are not going to see any meaningful minutes in the playoffs, and they are only seeing meaningful minutes now in an attempt to rest the Big Three.
What struck me most about this game was Rajon Rondo’s performance. Rondo took six jumpers tonight from beyond the foul line, and made three of them. That’s six of his 13 shot attempts. And this didn’t seem weird or out of character. That is a fairly remarkable thing, since it was only 2 1/2 months ago that Henry Abbott on TrueHoop rightfully pointed out Rondo’s unwillingness to even think about taking jumpers. At that point, after a Jan. 4 loss to the Knicks in which New York’s defensive strategy was to ignore him, Rondo had taken 290 shots; of those, 205 had been at the rim, according to NBA.com’s hot spot data. From anywhere else the court–including from just beyond the side boundaries of the paint and in the high paint (i.e. “the floater zone”)–Rondo was 23-of-85. That is a startling discrepancy. Well, here is Rondo’s hot spot data from his last 10 games–not including last night, since NBA.com doesn’t update that quickly.
Yes, there’s some blue there, but kindly ignore the three-pointers (not his shot) and the little floater areas on the side of the basket (those must have been some tough shots) and focus on two things: 1) Rondo’s a tidy 11-of-23 on jumpers in the 18-20-foot range; and 2) Rondo has taken 55 shots at the rim and 48 shots from everywhere else. Think about how dramatic a change that is from Henry’s post just 30 or so games ago.
And if Rondo can shoot 50 percent on those 18-20-foot jumpers, it helps the team dramatically. We saw this tonight, when the Clippers, after Rondo had hit two early jumpers (and looked very confident doing so), did something you’d have never seen two months ago: they had their point guards run over screens to chase Rondo on pick-and-rolls.
First quarter, 3:27: Perk runs above the foul line to set a screen at Rondo’s left. Rondo dribbles around it, and his man (Baron Davis) runs over the screen as Perk rolls to the basket. Normally, Perk would have trouble getting a clean release here, since both his man (Chris Kaman) and Davis would be squeezing him as Rondo dribbled by the screen. But Perk rolled to the hoop uncontested, as Kaman lost his balance (he may have gotten tangled up with Davis) in scrambling to follow Perk and hit the floor. Rondo bounced a pass to Perk, who converted an uncontested dunk.
First quarter, 1:04: This time it’s Eric Gordon guarding Rondo as Perk again sets a screen near the top of the key. And again, Gordon chases Rondo over the screen as Raon dribbles left. This time, Rondo keeps his dribble and blows by both Gordon and Perk’s man (Kaman again) to the left side of the rim, where he snaps off a nifty right-handed lay-up just beyond Kaman’s out-stretched arm.
One more, from the third quarter:
1:44: Ray Allen receives a pass on the right wing, and the Clips are caught trying to rotate. Ray uses his defender’s momentum against him and drives to his left, toward the foul line, forcing Rondo’s man to collapse down to help. Ray kicks to Rondo at the top of the key, and Rondo drills a 20-footer.
Read that again: Ray Allen penetrated and kicked to Rajon Rondo for a jump shot. This doesn’t have to be an isolated incident; I’ve written before about Ray Allen’s ability to create off the dribble because of the way defenders have to rush out at him in a panic.
More thoughts, after the jump.
I’m not saying Rajon Rondo has turned into Ray Allen or even that he could do so in his wildest dreams. I’m saying that Rondo has developed a serviceable jump shot, and that he’s come a long way from the player the Knicks completely ignored in a defensive strategy that was (justifiably) touted at the time as one way to successfully defend Boston.
Some team will probably try that again, and it might work. But I’m guessing it won’t. And if that guess is right, the Celtics will go into the playoffs with four elite offensive players, not three.
Oh, and the C’s forced 21 turnovers tonight, so perhaps we’re back on the right track in terms of forcing TOs. Or maybe the C’s played the Clippers.