The Celtics as a team hit a couple big jumpers last night. You may have heard a thing or two about them. Yet, before Baby’s clutch shots, there was someone else on the Celtics roster whose shooting performance got me excited about last night. No, it wasn’t Paul Pierce who had the mid range j going all night (6 of 9 on 2 pt jumpers). It certainly wasn’t Ray Allen who scored 12 points despite being unable to hit a shot outside 18 feet this entire series with any kind of regularlity. It wasn’t even Perk who hit a nifty 16 foot foul line jumper in the 2nd quarter that likely made KG proud.
The man’s shooting I am talking about here is none other than Mr. Triple Double himself Rajon Rondo. The point guard started the playoffs by playing arguably the best 5 game stretch of his career on the offensive end, averaging over 24 points for Games 1-5 against Chicago. A lot of this tremendous play stemmed from Rondo’s relentless attacking of the basket in transition but the close shots certainly weren’t accounting for all of the guard’s baskets. The X factor in Rondo’s great offensive play during those contests was his ability to hit the midrange jumper.
Over the regular season, Rondo shot a dismal 37% from the field on 2 point jumpers. That lack of a consistent stroke left most smart teams liable to give Rondo the open outside look in order to better defend the lane.
The problem for the Bulls in the first five games of their series against Boston was that Rondo was hitting his jumpers at a 45% clip, 8 points above his regular season average from 2 pt range. He was also taking and hitting a high number jump shots during these games. Now 45% is by no means shooting the lights out, but it is a huge number when you are dealing with a player like Rondo, whose jumper is his biggest offense weakness.
With Rondo shooting this well, it forced the Bulls in those games to account for these open looks more in their defense. This allowed Rondo a better opportunity to attack the paint, as well as create chances for his teammates, averaging 10 assists in those contests. This created a virtually impossible situation for the Bulls in attempting to defend Rondo one of the most explosive players in the league as no matter how they decided to defend the point guard, they had a high probability of being punished by the speedster.
Unfortunately however for Celtics fans, Rondo’s shooting touch appeared to get lost in the luggage on its way back to Chicago for Game 6 and was not recovered for quite some time. Despite the lack of “luggage, “Rondo failed to discover the problem himself, creating for some ugly shooting numbers in the past couple weeks. Let’s take a look at the guard’s shot charts from Game 6 and 7 of the Chicago series as well as Game 1 against Orlando after the jump.
Game 6 (Chicago)
That’s a lot of X’s on the floor. It kind of looks like someone was playing a game of tic tac toe, except whoever was using the x’s got an infinite number of turns. The overall shooting numbers were ugly for Rondo in these games as is, going a combined 8 of 39 (20.5%) from the field. A closer inspection at Rondo’s jump shots from outside the paint shows he made an unfathomable 8% of those jumpers, shooting 1 of 13 on those attempts throughout the 3 games. Woof.
Now it’s one thing to lose your shooting touch, but it’s another to shoot worse from the outside than the 12th man on the local high school JV team. The drastic shift in percentage quickly made the philosophy in guarding Rondo much easier for the Bulls and Magic as they gave him all kinds of room on the perimeter in those contests, practically begging him to keep taking and missing the open looks.
We all saw Rondo’s overall play improve in game 2 as he looked like the Rondo of old, attacking the basket at will but was still unable to hit a jumper to save his life going 1 of 6 from outside the paint.
Some minor signs of progress came in Game 3 as Rondo went 2/7 on jumpers. Not exactly Eddie House numbers there, but given the 8% percentage the C’s had been working with just days earlier, any signs of life were nothing to sneeze at.
Not impressed by it? Don’t worry you shouldn’t be. The guy went a fairly pedestrian 3 of 8 on jumpers. The exciting part for Celtics fans though is that
1) That 3 for 8 number matches his season average of 37% on 2 point jumpers exactly i.e. he’s back where he should be
2) Rondo showed confidence while taking and making multiple jumpers.
All year long, it’s been feast or famine with Rondo shooting the ball. When he’s feasting he will make maybe one out of every two jumpers. When the famine hits and Rondo loses confidence as he did at the start of game 6 against Chicago (I blame the Hinrich scuffle for rattling his play for the record) the shooting numbers can fall to drastic depths.
By no means should the mid range shot be a major component in Rondo’s game, all Celtics fans know he is at his best when attacking the rim. No matter what the Celtics do offensively though, there’s a good chance that Rondo is going to have to take those mid range jumpers 3-5 times a game at least. Whether it’s because its a wide open look, shot clock is running down, etc. it’s a shot the C’s need to have Rondo willing to take and take confidently.
Last night for the first time in weeks, Rondo showed he could make an outside shot at a consistent clip. Doc Rivers does not need him to make it 5 or 6 times out of 10 for the C’s to be successful. However, this team can not afford him taking and missing it 8 or 9 times out of 10 which causes it to be a non-threat and non-factor in the offense.
Rondo making those jumpers four out of every 10 attempts will suffice for this team, and that’s exactly what he gave them last night. If the 3rd year guard can keep that pace going through these next three games, their prospects will improve dramatically for making a potential Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Cavs a reality.