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The Beauty of Misdirection

 

Doc Rivers will always have his critics, but you have to give him this: He is an adaptive offensive coach, and his offensive sets have become more creative as the team’s personnel has become more diverse and skilled.

On Monday at Memphis I noticed a couple of plays that employed some pretty fun misdirection and took advantage of the C’s newest offensive assets: Rasheed Wallace and a quicker, much-improved Kendrick Perkins. Look to see more of these types of play as the season goes on.

Let’s start with one play in which Ray Allen uses a deke almost as obvious as the ones outfielders use to convince baserunners they are about to catch a fly ball that is actually going to land 10 feet in front of them:

The play starts on the right side, with Rajon Rondo dribbling hard toward Ray Allen just as Allen (guarded by Sam Young) cuts left toward the top of the three-point arc, where Rasheed Wallace sticks his ass out to try and set a “screen” on Young. Only this really isn’t the intent of the play.

As you can see from this still, the screen doesn’t really work:

rondoplay1

Sam Young has fought over the Sheed ass screen and stuck right with Ray, who is calling for the ball in an exaggerated way. This is more for show than anything else, I think, especially judging by the cut that comes next. Ray needs to keep Young’s attention and get that of Sheed’s man (Marc Gasol), who is in the paint between Sheed and Ray.

But then the real play starts. Ray stops on a dime, does a U-Turn and cuts back right (toward the ball) with the help of a solid Sheed screen on Sam Young. In the below shot, we see the play taking form:

rondoplay2

The cut and screen have clearly caught Young by surprise, and he’s getting a nice close-up view of Sheed’s (out of shape) mid-section. Gasol has to shift away from Sheed and position himself at the right elbow to cut off any potential penetration as Rondo gets ready to swing the ball to Ray.

Here’s what things look like by the time Ray makes the catch:

rondoplay3

Young is chasing, Gasol is helping and Sheed is back-pedaling to his favorite spot at the top of the key. This is really a sort of three man pick-and-pop, and it produces the kind of three-point look Sheed should be taking.

It’s a nice little play.

Finally, here’s one more fun play from midway through the 4th quarter. This one is designed to look like a classic KG-Rondo two-man play but quickly transforms into something else.

The play starts with Rondo walking the ball over half court and KG taking his place near the top of the three-point line, as if he wants to set a screen for Rajon. But all of a sudden, three movements kick in: 1) KG cuts back door behind Randolph and toward the hoop; 2) Rondo dribbles hard toward the spot KG just vacated; 3) A split second later, Perk runs up from the left block toward the foul line. We’ll get to Perk in a minute.

Here’s a still from the moment those movements start:

perkplay1

It looks a lot like a potential lob pass from Rondo to KG, doesn’t it? The initial movement has the added benefit of drawing the attention of Paul Pierce’s defender (Rudy Gay), who is keeping tabs on both KG and Rondo.

Rondo surely has the option of hitting KG here if the open pass presents itself. But that doesn’t appear to be the primary goal of this set. Check out what’s happening as KG completes his cut:

perkplay2

We’ve got Rondo stopping at the  top of the three-point line and getting ready to change direction and dribble back to his left. We’ve got Rudy Gay drifting over toward Rajon Rondo and away from the C’s all-time leader in made three-pointers. And we have the Beast curling up from the left block to set a screen for Rondo.

Here’s that screen:

Picture 11

Memphis clearly was not expecting Rondo to reverse his dribble around a Perk screen. Look at the three Grizz defenders clustered around Rajon. Rondo’s man (Mike Conley) has decided to go under the Perk screen. That’s probably the right call, given Rajon’s lack of three-point range.

Except Perk’s man (Marc Gasol) has already dropped down and slid over to his right in order to help on Rondo. Another rational decision, except the two choices combined are going to result in Conley and Gasol getting in each other’s way a bit.

As for Gay, he’s in a really tough position. Does he stick with Pierce? Help on whoever cuts down the lane? Neither?

The result of all this confusion is a wide-open lane down which Perk can roll to the basket, catch a lob from Rondo and lay the ball off the glass—all in one motion.

Again—this is a simple screen/roll, only it’s not that simple because it is preceded by all sorts of complicated movements and misdirection. And it’s a tribute to Perk’s improvement. He could not have completed this play so smoothly last season.

If you read a lot of NBA team blogs, you know that fans and experts bemoan the lack of creativity in a bunch of NBA offenses (with a lot of recent noise about New Orleans, Cleveland and Chicago). Appreciate what we have in Boston—a group of veterans who understand how to move with and without the ball, a budding star point guard and a coaching staff who knows how to use all of the team’s pieces.

  • Micah

    zach i love this article because i feel doc is under rated in his coaching ability for a lack of creativity but these plays show just how intricate the C’s offensive play book is. that combined with thibodeau’s defensive schemes and you get banner 18

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

    @:Micah: Thanks. These video things are fun to do. I hope to do more of ‘em.

  • robert

    Great insightful article. I learned something today. That is always worth something.

    I look forward to reading more.

    Thanks,
    Robert

  • MikeD

    Great article, hope to see more of these in the future!

  • Jason

    First, in the very first still, it seems Ray should have plenty of space for a clean-looking 3, a shot everyone would prefer over a Sheed 3. Maybe if Rondo got him the ball a split-second earlier.

    Second, the Perk lob stuck out to me as well when it happened. I was thinking what a great 1-2 option/decoy/option set that was. Glad you highlighted it.

    As a whole the C’s offense is pretty remarkable. You start with a number of individual weapons, each with a high b-ball IQ. You add selflessness, a willing to set screens, killer screens, motion away from the ball, ball movement, 2+ years experience playing the same starting five and an explosive and precise PG that’s pretty much blossomed into knowing exactly what to do with the ball almost all the time.

    Their team offense is creative and diverse and a headache to defend. This is one of the major reasons I HATE it when end game situations digress into Pierce (as good as he is) isolations. You’ve played a normal, great offense for 46 minutes. Why now are four guys standing still while Pierce goes one on one? I will NEVER understand this thinking or “strategy” though many, many coaches in this league use it with their star player in these situations.

  • Carlos Rizik

    This is great! Keep writing stuff like this, and posting vids as examples. It’s like a college lecture, with screening and all.

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

    @ everyone: Thanks for the kind words. It’s more work than it looks like, but if people like it, I’ll keep it up.

  • Rocci

    This is great stuff, and a good example of why this site has become one of my most visited. Nicely done.

  • Daniel

    I agree. I’m not a Celtics guy (but you’ve gotta love what they’re doing) and only found the article through Truehoop bullets, but this is far and away the best post I’ve read today. Very interesting and informative.

  • Ryan

    thanks for the great post – very insightful.

  • http://TrueHoop Adam

    I just read this through the truehoop bullets (I’m a Nets guy myself) but this is really a great article, keep up the great work!

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  • James

    Ok, so it is great to break the game down and all…….but this is not highly challenging stuff the C’s are doing. Watch any European game of a decent level and this stuff happens all the time, their basketball is all about deception, using players strengths to the team’s advantage, etc, etc. Jeez, I run plays like this with 15 year old girls.

    The best offensive strategists are in Europe and there should be more of these coaches helping NBA teams. Ettore Messina is a FAR better coach than much of what is going around the NBA – in my mind he’s up with the better coaches like Jackson, Skiles, Carlisle, Pop, et al.

    I’m a Bulls fan who cannot stand the fact we employed a guy with ZERO coaching experience to lead a young team. I shudder to think of the time being lost because we did not get a capable coach (especially since we sacked an outstanding coach in Skiles).

    Be thankful you have a decent head coach with a good staff around him!

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  • josh

    Can you forward this to Jay Triano? He needs some help.

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

    @Josh: I’m heading to Toronto for the holidays, and word has it Triano is seen out there all the time. If I see him, I’ll give him some helpful suggestions. Like: Don’t let Antoine Wright shoot. Ever.

  • josh

    Thanks Zach, but Jay has Wright nailed to the bench right now. Maybe you can help him find where Marco Bellinelli left his shot at. Anyway, have fun here in Toronto!

  • Sheldon Williams

    Why are we taking such a close look at a play that ultimately wasn’t successful? The set up I suppose was nice but ultimately if the shot is missed at the end then the play realistically is unsuccessful.

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

    A play that produces an open shot in a shooter comfort zone=successful. That’s all you can do. Sometimes the shots don’t go in.

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  • deeznuts

    You can’t evaluate a play based on it’s outcome. All any coach can do, is try to put his players in the best possible position for them to use their particular skill set. The plays here may not appear remarkable or overly complicated, but they both result in open looks for players, who receive the ball in the areas where they are most comfortable (and effective) scoring.

    I’m just beside myself wondering how they allowed brands tip in in last game…there’s no way a team should get a second look at the basket with under 10 seconds on the clock after a missed shot…One decent box out…one decent rebound…one smack on the ball to send it to the other end of the court and that game is a win. Grrr

  • John

    I’m not a Celtics fan, I found this link through truehoop on espn. Great post, those plays (and more importantly the incredible teamwork and chemistry they exemplify) are exactly the reason why the Celtics are going to raise another banner this season.

  • Jarett (seattle)

    Really well done, I have been noticing some really well designed plays coming from the Celts this year, glad someone else appreciates them as much as I do.
    P.S. I’m not even a fan of the Celts

  • Mavis Beacon

    Good to see the Celts are designing more ways for Wallace to take threes. (the second one is genuinely nice)

  • Joe.R

    Was Gasol all that fooled by the first play? He closes out, and, with a good hand up and out, Sheed misses the shot.
    Appreciate this type of post tho. NBA announcers, commentators, play by play men may know this stuff but really do not, or are not, able to deliver it in-broadcast. Thats where blogs and posts like this give good value. IMO. Thanks!

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  • Coach H.

    I’m a basketball coach that is always looking for new creative plays. I have (3) very good 3 point shooters on my team and love how the Celtics get their weapons open looks. I would love anything you can send me or post for review. I agree Doc doesn’t get enough credit!

  • bob

    nice post! very detailed and the plays are nice to watch.. especially the latter one..

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