Pace: 87 possessions (slow)
Offensive Efficiency: 105 points scored/100 possessions (well below average)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.5 points allowed/100 possessions (top 5-level defense)
Some bullet points to tide you over until a full recap:
• Let it be said that on this night, Nov. 4, 2009, the Celtics, annually one of the most turnover-prone teams in the league, won a game in part because of turnovers. It’s not easy to win an NBA game when your opponents shoot 52 percent from the floor and your team shoots 44.6 percent. You need to win another category or two, and tonight that category was turnovers (and, to a much, much lesser extent, free throw attempts and threes). The C’s forced 18 and committed 10. Want to know how many times the C’s committed 10 or fewer TOs last season? Just nine times. (NINE times. Nine times).
And they needed that turnover margin tonight, because they couldn’t really stop the T’Wolves and they couldn’t get the offense going for more than a possession or two at a time.
• The positive way to look at this game is this: The Celtics absorbed a perfect storm of badness and still won. It was the second game of a road-road back-to-back against a young, rested team; the threes would not go down, as they sometimes won’t when older shooters are shooting them on the second night of a back-to-back; and Minnesota’s collection of rangy, awkward players made things difficult for Boston on both ends. And yet the team won.
• And they flashed their elite defense when it mattered. Here are Minnesota’s final eight possessions:
Corey Brewer missed 17-footer; Oleksiy Pecherov missed three-pointer; Al Jefferson turnover/Rondo steal; Garnett blocked shot on Pecherov attempt; Gomes missed three-pointer; KG ties up Brewer, forcing jump ball; Jefferson misses desperation heave.
That’s eight possessions (seven if you discount Big Al’s last-second shot) and one score. It’s good to know this team can call upon its full defensive intensity when they need to.
My favorite play from that sequence, and some other thoughts, after the jump.
• Didn’t this game feel a little bit like the Orlando series? A smart coach essentially leaving Rondo alone on offense, clogging the lane and the elbow areas the Big Three like and keeping the C’s out of transition—we’ve seen this before, and we’re going to see it now and then until Rondo proves he can hit shots. (He missed all his jumpers tonight). I mean, Flynn was literally not guarding Rondo in some sequences. KG would post Pecherov up on the left block, and Flynn would just stand right behind Pecherov, waiting for KG to make a move, totally ignoring Rajon.
There are several ways to counter this, and tonight the C’s focused on one: Having Rondo roam the baseline until one of the ball-handlers can find a seam to deliver him the ball in close. Here’s Rondo’s shot chart from the third quarter, when he scored 14 points on 6-9 shooting:
That one dot is six lay-ups. So the “don’t guard Rondo” strategy was a net minus in the 3rd quarter for the T’Wolves. But the C’s will have to work hard to make that strategy a net minus going forward.
One thing they could try: Involve Rondo in screen/rolls—but as the screener. They did it once with Pierce in the 3rd, and though it yielded nothing, it at least gets Rajon moving in unpredictable ways. Just something to consider.
• Hey, Laimbeer: Boston hates you, too.
• Who is Oleksiy Pecherov, this mystery man who scored 24 points? Where did he come from? Consider:
Am I suggesting an animated character with a fairly well-established preference for men mated with a forgotten actor to produce a mysterious 7’0” Ukrainian basketball player with a three-point shot and a herky-jerky off-the-dribble game? Yes. Yes I am. (Actually, the Wizards drafted him in 2006 and dealt to the Wolves as a throw-in in the deal in which Minny sent the Wiz Mike Miller and Randy Foye in exchange for the #5 pick in the draft).
• Just when you thought Perk was going to sit the whole 4th quarter, Doc subbed him in for Sheed with just under 4:00 to go. And he made a basket right away. Solid work for Perk all night on the interior.
• Really nice work from Daniels again, except the ugly 2-of-6 mark at the foul line. It should be clear by now that referring to Daniels as a back-up point guard or point forward is too simple. He’s going to play off the ball a lot, hang out in the corners and force his man to decide whether to pay attention to him or help on the screen/roll action going on elsewhere. From that spot, he’s shown he can pump fake, dribble-drive and find the open man. He also ran a nice side screen/roll with Shelden Williams that led to a Shelden dunk in the 2nd quarter.
• Marquis’ defense has surprised me the most. In isolations, he’s fantastic. He keeps his man in front of him, doesn’t go for pump fakes and doesn’t get beat off the dribble. In more fluid situations, he has a knack for getting deflections and steals. He’s a smart player. He’s not a terribly great athlete—his runners and lay-ups have a very high degree of difficult compared to, say, Rondo’s—but he’s going to help a lot this year.
• Another silly T for Sheed, and I’m already tired of it.
• Line-up watch: We had 3:26 of an All-Bench Mob line-up in the 2nd quarter, with Scal playing the three alongside Sheed and Shelden Williams and Daniels/House in the back court. The Cs outscored the Wolves 5-2 in that span.
• 41 minutes for the Truth tonight, as it was clearly his night to take the high-minute baton from Ray. Pierce spent time with four back-ups in both the 2nd and 4th quarters as Ray sat.
• We also saw a very unusual line-up mid-way through the 4th: Daniels, House, Sheed, Pierce and KG. As I’ve mentioned before, KG rarely plays without both Allen and Pierce on the floor. Perhaps the team’s newfound depth will give Doc more flexibility in this regard.
• Finally, my favorite defensive play from that run of stops to end the game: The Ryan Gomes missed three with 41 seconds left and the C’s up 92-90. KG’s tie-up of Brewer about 30 seconds later will make SportsCenter, but this play shows how much the Captain has grown as a defender. Minnesota calls a simple Flynn/Jefferson screen roll at the top of the three-point line. Big Al sets the screen to Flynn’s left and hits Rondo with it solidly; Rajon fights over it, but he’s in trouble—he’s so far behind Flynn that he goes for the pokeaway steal that is supposedly the big no-no this season. Big Al’s man—Perk—plants himself in front of Flynn just north of the foul line and backpedals, keeping Flynn out of the lane. Nice work from Perk.
Flynn slows down and surveys the scene with Rondo on his back and Perk in front him. He’s stuck. Jefferson is still at the top of the key, and he’s no threat from there. Flynn has two choices: 1) A highly contested floater/runner; 2) A dish to Gomes on the right wing for a three-pointer. Pierce is guarding Gomes, and he’s playing well off of Ryan as the just-in-case helper on the Flynn/Jefferson screen/roll. Pierce is standing at the edge of the paint just below the foul line. He’s probably get 15 feet to go to close out on Gomes.
Flynn notices this and readies for the pass. If you watch in super-slow motion, you can see Pierce shift his weight as Flynn turns his body to face Gomes. By the time the ball is a third of the way to Gomes, Pierce is already moving. By the time Gomes makes the catch, Pierce is maybe 24 inches away. By the time Gomes rises to shoot, Pierce is right in this face. Brick.
It’s subtle work. But it’s great stuff from a guy who has become a very, very good defensive player.
That’s it from me. Look for a full recap later.
Oh, and screw the Yankees, once and always.