The Knicks blitzed the C’s in the second part of the 3rd quarter, going on a 27-8 run that saw the C’s 69-55 lead turn into an 82-77 deficit. Five New York three-pointers in a 6:30 or so span fueled the run.
The temptation, as a fan, is to throw up your hands and criticize your team’s defensive mistakes. The rotations were bad! The players were lazy! Let’s take a look at those five New York three-pointers and see what really happened.
7:30: Gallinari makes 26-foot three-pointer.
How he was open: Screen/roll
Verdict on defense: mixed
This is about as elementary a play as exists in the NBA: Chris Duhon dribbles to his right around a David Lee screen. Except this play has one wrinkle: Lee bolts the screen before he really sets it and cuts down the middle of the paint. The decision appears to catch Perk by surprise—if you watch the clip closely, Perk’s eyes are on Duhon as Lee cuts and gets inside position on Perk. Pierce sees this developing and dives aggressively off of Gallinari to help on Lee.
Does Paul make the right play? Probably. If he doesn’t help there, Duhon has a simple pass to Lee for a dunk. Is Perk to blame for paying too much attention to a terrible offensive player and letting a decent one get by him? I don’t know enough to say yes for sure, but that’s my initial reaction.
Play #2: 4:47–Al Harrington makes 27-foot three-pointer
How he was open: The Celtics helped down low after Ray Allen ended up guarding David Lee because of an early switch.
Verdict on defense: The little things kill.
This three is made about 15 seconds before it happens, because of a decision the C’s make as Duhon is bringing up the ball on the right side. David Lee comes out to set a pick for Duhon at the three-point line; Perk appears to call the screen out to Rondo, because Rajon suddenly shifts his body into an open stance, allowing Duhon to dribble around the screen uncontested. This is a de facto switch, and it starts a chain reaction of switches that ends with Ray Allen guarding Lee on the right block toward the end of the possession.
Obviously, that’s a mismatch. When Lee gets the ball, you’ll notice Perk (rightfully) sags way off of Duhon, leaving Duhon open at the top of the key. Pierce, guarding Gallinari, is in a tough spot, basically responsible for two shooters—Gallo and Duhon. He moves in between the two. Lee reads this and passes out to Gallo. Pierce can’t close out in time, so KG leaves his man (Harrington) to close out on Gallo. The Rooster makes the extra pass to a wide-open Harrington for an easy three.
If there are mistakes here, there are two: 1) the initial switch; 2) Pierce’s decision to drift off of Gallinari instead of just leaving the offensively incompetent Duhon alone. But those are both very tough choices with no right answers, just answers that are less wrong.
Play #3: 4:18–Harrington makes 24-foot three-pointer
How he was open: Screen/hand-off from Lee
Verdict on defense: Poor
There’s some sort of breakdown here as Lee delivers a short pass to Harrington at the same time as he moves into position to set a screen for Al. KG sees the screen coming and sinks off of Harrington, as if he expects to switch onto Lee and have Perk jump out onto Harrington. In my (unlearned) view, this seems to expect too much of Perk, who has a lot of ground to cover. Harrington just ends up being wide open.
Play #4: Al Harrington makes 24-foot three-pointer
How he was open: He really wasn’t, but a Duhon screen/hand-off gave him a sliver of space.
Verdict on defense: Solid
Just shrug your shoulders and move on. Duhon’s man (Ray Allen) sees ahead of time that Duhon is about to execute the dribble hand-off/screen for Harrington; Ray switches and jumps out to contest the shot. Harrington’s guy (KG) is also right there. This is good defense and a ridiculous shot Harrington probably shouldn’t take. Unfortunately for the C’s, those are Harrington’s favorite kind of shots.
Play #5: 0:53–Nate Robinson makes 25-foot three-pointer in transition
How he was open: Lazy transition defense
Verdict on defense: Not good
This clip starts with the C’s on offense, because that’s really where they allow this Nate-Rob three-pointer. Pierce tries to thread a nifty bouncer to Marquis Daniels, only Daniels cuts in a different direction and Duhon steals it. Pierce looks at Daniels for a couple of seconds and sulks. Daniels, for his part, continues his cut and flails his arms for some reason. Let’s freeze the play just as Duhon is starting to dribble:
We see Pierce turning to look at Daniels. At the lower right edge of the screen, you see the backside of Eddie House, who is responsible for Robinson and has him covered. At the top, you see Curry wearing an orange head band; Sheed is off the screen to the right, in easy position to control Curry. Scal, Daniels and Pierce are ahead of the other three Knicks. With things positioned like this, there is no excuse for the C’s giving up an open transition three.
But they do. And they do because Daniels and Pierce keep doing whatever they are doing as Chris Duhon dribbles right on by them. House ends up having to stop the ball and leave Robinson open, and Duhon hits Nate for the three.
Of all the plays, this one is the worst. Look, it happens. Guys get frustrated, they lose their focus for a second and someone gets an open three. It’s the regular season. It wouldn’t have happened in the playoffs.
So you take these five plays, and what do we see? A mix of everything—good defense, questionable switching, solid offensive plays that force bad decisions and out-and-out laziness. Only one play (the Nate three) is really inexcusable. One is a tough shot buried in the face of good defense.
The three others—those are the interesting ones. On those three plays, the C’s made little decisions throughout the course of a possession that resulted in the Knicks getting decent looks. Were all of those decisions “wrong”? No. Were there a few the C’s need to clean up next time? Probably. But teams have to make these choices all the time, and they are, by nature, choices between several less-than-perfect outcomes. The choices backfired on these three plays. It happens. Luckily for us, the C’s usually make the right choices, and when they don’t, they’re good enough to recover.