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The Semi-Transition Game: Embrace It

 

I mentioned in my recap of the Bobcats game that the C’s offense is especially effective in a sort of semi-transition mode. I’m not talking about a traditional 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 break, which the C’s have never been fantastic at either producing or converting. I’m talking more about a slow-ish break, where all five defenders are back but the C’s move quickly enough into their offense to catch the defense off guard.

This is where the C’s offense is at its most potent, and it sort of makes you wish the team weren’t currently ranked 25th in the league in pace.

This isn’t revolutionary stuff. Teams shoot a higher percentage when they shoot early in the shot clock, and it’s generally good to attack defenses—particularly good defenses—before they get their players where they want them. But I’d argue that the C’s are uniquely suited to score efficiently in these situations. They have great perimeter shooters all over the floor, one big guy (KG) who runs the floor well and passes beautifully, and a super-quick point guard who can switch from a jog-dribble to a sprint-dribble before the defense realizes anything is amiss.

A few examples from the Charlotte game.

We’ll start with the three that got Ray Allen going.

The play hardly starts like a fast break; Ray Allen rebounds a Bobcats miss and hands the ball to Rajon Rondo, who jogs up the floor. The Bobcats defense appears set. But check out this still:

piercescreenTwo things are good here for a semi-transition opportunity: 1) KG is already a stride or two from the paint, meaning he’ll be in position to do something—receive a pass, set a screen—if Rondo drives to the hoop; 2) Look at Pierce just above KG. He’s in the process of planting his left foot and making a snap decision with Rondo: “I’m setting a screen now; drive around it.”

Rondo does, and he’s able to get to his favorite area under the rim. That leaves us here:

Picture 7Check out what Stephen Jackson is doing as Ray cuts toward the right corner. He’s standing at the elbow, paying no attention to one of the great shooters in NBA history. Instead, he’s focusing on Rondo, but he’s not actually doing anything to help on Rajon. He’s just looking.

The result: A very easy semi-transition three.

Example #2:

This play starts the same way—a seemingly innocent possession that turns deadly when Pierce sets a screen above the three-point line for Rondo. Notice what Pierce’s man (Stephen Jackson) does as Rondo drives around the screen:

Picture 3We see Rondo surrounded by three guys; Jackson is the one just below the left elbow, with his back to us. He has dropped down to help on Rondo, but it’s lazy, half-hearted help. He has given Rondo the left sideline drive, which is what Rajon wants.

Also note what’s happening on the weak side: Perk is setting a screen on Gerald Wallace for Ray to run around and cut to the corner. Wallace does a great job fighting over the screen to stay with Ray and prevent Rondo from making the same pass we saw in the first clip.

But this leaves Perk unguarded at the foul line, since his guy (Tyson Chandler) has to dive down and prevent the Rondo lay-in.

Look where Perk catches the ball:

Picture 4He’s about 10 feet from the rim with a very good shot-blocker about to try and stop him. I’m not sure Perk had the mobility, quickness and skill to finish this play even last season. Now he does. Great stuff.

Example #3:

There isn’t really much to this play. It’s just a combination of nice effort from KG in running the floor and poor defense by Tyson Chandler and the Bobs for letting KG get behind everyone. Once again, though, the first option—an easy KG lay-in—doesn’t materialize. Chandler gets back into decent defensive position as KG gathers the ball and Stephen Jackson (yes, again) darts into the paint for some way-to0-late help on KG:

Picture 8It’s going to be tough for KG to finish from here. But as you can see, he’s staring at a wide open Ray Allen in the left corner. Splash.

And we’ll end with the prettiest play of the game, which also happened in semi-transition:

This is the only one of these plays that starts out looking like a fast break—an actual 3-on-2!—only Rajon can’t find a good passing angle and turns the ball out. But a second opportunity presents itself because the speed of the C’s attack has caught the Bobcats off guard and left them in bad defensive match-ups.

When I first saw this play (and even when I re-watched it), I assumed KG had again outrun Chandler down the floor. But look:

Picture 11Chandler is planted in the paint, exactly where he should be. It’s Jackson that is chasing KG. The obvious thing for Chandler to do at this moment would be to jump onto KG  and prevent the Rondo entry pass. There’s no one else for Tyson to guard. But he doesn’t, and my best guess is that he fails to do so because he is a bit flustered by the chaos of the situation. (Can’t you hear him thinking: “Jackson’s chasing KG? Diaw’s guarding Rondo? Well, that’s not good. What the hell should I do? Oh crap.”)

The final bit of the play happens here:

raycut

Again, the Bobcats are confused. It really shouldn’t be this easy for KG to thread a pass to Ray here. Rondo sticks out his hip to slow down Ray’s man (Felton), but Felton doesn’t fight very hard to stick with Ray. Maybe he thinks that Diaw, standing under the rim, will pick Allen up. Diaw, though, is focused on KG, so no one ends up switching onto Ray as he cuts to the rim.

Bad defense or confusion produced by smart offense that develops before the defense is ready? It’s clearly a combination of both. For the alleged top defensive team in the league, the Bobcats make some bad mistakes during each of these four plays. But the speed of the offense makes it more likely the defense will make those kinds of mistakes and magnifies their consequences—the defense doesn’t get a second chance to recover.

When you watch these clips, the natural temptation is to ask why the C’s average just 91.0 possessions a game; only five teams average fewer. It also makes you think that Heinsohn knows what the hell he is talking about when he calls (endlessly) for the C’s to push the ball.

Two things: 1) The C’s are an older team. They can’t run like maniacs all game long in December; 2) Each of these plays comes off a Bobcat miss. It is harder for the C’s to get into this offense when an opponent is hitting shots.

But 25th in pace?

  • T

    Great article and analysis. From a casual view, these plays seem almost chaotic and improvised. When it is broken down like that it makes the offense look like a perfectly executed gem.

    I would love to see the second unit play a lot more like this. Those looks were wide open shots for ray that I could see House knocking down. Plus, with the increase in pace, there would be less pressure on the ball handler (Daniels) and could result in less turnovers.

  • http://CelticsHub.com Zach Lowe

    @T: Thanks for the kind words. You know who the second unit lacks, though? Rondo. He’s a huge part of being able to play like this, though Doc is playing him more with the back-ups lately.

  • Sweeney

    Thanks for breaking it down. It is nice to be able to somewhat analyze it, even it is just us rabid fans.

  • http://www.celticstown.com Jay King

    Zach, I really love these breakdowns you do. You show a terrific knowledge of the game and a wonderful knack for being able to explain what’s going on in a play. Don’t stop these breakdowns. Please.

  • http://CelticsHub.com Zach Lowe

    @Jay: I do deserve this after my pathetic Twitter plea, don’t I?

  • Tom

    Neither House/Daniels/Allen/Pierce look comfortable as the PG, I think Doc is wised to take out Rondo early and put him in when Daniels/House are in. I honestly would love to see what Scal can do at the 3 in order to save some minutes from Pierce and Allen

  • Tebucky

    Great stuff! If you guys taught a class in college I totally would have paid attention, and that is saying something….

  • Robot Boy

    Great work. Really helps me to understand the game. Why don’t more sports writers and ‘analysts’ do this sort of thing? Instead we’re inundated with Artest’s Hennessy habit and AI: will he or won’t he?

  • KC

    Agreed, great work. This is what basketball fans want.

    On a general note, i always hoped to find a Celtics site like this with articles,write ups and opinions etc instead of just being a message forum. This site is what i was after. Great work, and i cant believe the amount of articles that are knocked out here. Makes my morning, every morning. Well done guys.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @Tebucky: I really hope you are Tebucky Jones;
    @Tebucky, KC, Robot: Thanks. It’s a lot of work, so it’s good to know people are checking it out.

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  • http://www.celticstown.com Jay King

    @Zach. Your request was answered on this one. I didn’t just lazily RT it, and none of these other people did either.

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