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24 Good Minutes: C’s 103, Pacers 94

 

Picture 2ESPN recapEight Points Nine SecondsIndy Cornrows

Pace: 94  possessions (slightly above average)

Offensive Efficiency: 109.5 points/100 possessions (above average)

Defensive Efficiency: 100 points allowed/100 possessions (league best)

Thumbnail: The C’s played their worst half of the season in falling behind 57-42, but rallied in the 2nd half thanks to some timely scoring from Perk and Ray Allen in the 3rd and an explosion by the captain in the 4th—not to mention 14 Pacer turnovers in the second half alone.

Recap: This gets my award for weirdest game of the season so far. The Celtics were awful defensively in the first half, by their standards and by general NBA standards. Small mistakes of both strategy and concentration/effort allowed the Pacers to score 57 first half points on 47 percent shooting, including an especially damaging 7-of-15 from three.

The team cut enough of the mistakes and brought a ton of scrambling effort in the 2nd half, and they concentrated part of that effort in taking away the three-point shot. It wasn’t especially pretty, but it was enough to stop an incompetent offensive team such as Indiana.

And that’s what the Pacers are without Danny Granger. It’s just hard to win NBA basketball games when 37 of your 74 field goal attempts—exactly half—come from Earl Watson, Brandon Rush, Luther Head and Dahntay Jones. This was not the C’s typical stifling defensive effort, where the opponent, despite multiple attempts at screen/rolls or curl plays, finds every option cut off and every offensive player somehow facing a bad match-up. It is hard to play that sort of impeccable defense without Kevin Garnett, especially against a team with a power forward (Troy Murphy) whose preference for hanging out 25 feet from the hoop takes you out of your normal defensive alignment. (And by the way, the whole Sheed playing power forward thing does not work. He can’t defend that position on most nights). Instead of KG diving down to help on Roy Hibbert as the big man rolled to the hoop, it was Paul Pierce, because his man was closer to the hoop than Murphy was.

Presented with these sorts of situations over and over again, the C’s went for steals, scrambled around with their hands up to cause deflections and jumped the passing lanes. It worked, thanks in part to Indiana’s abysmal guard play. The C’s racked up 15 steals (11 combined from Pierce and Rondo), the team’s 3rd-highest total this season and as many as they had in any game last season, and the Pacers helped out with 14 second-half turnovers. Some of those steals the C’s earned, some of them came gift-wrapped from the likes of Watson and Head heaving balls to nobody.

But hey: Holding any NBA team to 37 points in one half of basketball is an accomplishment, and holding Indiana to just six three-point attempts in the 2nd half  showed a nice recognition that the Pacers just can’t score points without the benefit of wide-open Js.

But as you can see from the efficiency numbers at the top of this little recap, the C’s won this game with their offense, too, which is strange to say when the team shot 38 percent from the floor.

And the C’s needed a little bit of offense from everybody tonight. Eddie House kept the team in the game early with 10 points in the 2nd quarter on 4-of-4 shooting, Ray Allen and Perk led the rally in the third, when they combined to score 24 of the C’s 35 points. Then the Truth took ‘em home.

The team shooting percentage was never great, not even in the second half (when the C’s shot 18-of-39, or 46 percent), but you combine decent shooting with 25 foul shots in 24 minutes, and you’ve got yourself a 61-point half. Perk earned eight of those free throw attempts, and if any game demonstrated his improvement on offense, it was this one.

He’s had better shooting days than tonight’s 6-of-11 mark, but Perk has rarely been more active and mobile than he was tonight. With KG and his pick-and-pop game out, Perk assumed the role as the C’s primary screen-setter on screen/rolls. And given the fact that Perk has no pick-and-pop game, that meant a lot of rolling to the hoop.

Perk is so much quicker and adept at finishing these plays this season. At one point midway through the 4th, Rondo and Sheed ran a screen/roll at the top of the key. Sheed’s man, Troy Murphy, jumped the screen and went to trap Rajon, leaving Sheed to roam free. This got the attention of Perk’s man (Roy Hibbert), who moved over to the left side of the paint to cut off a possible Sheed roll.

At this point, Perk was standing around the foul line and decided to cut the basket. Rondo passed him the ball, and Perk pulled up for a 9-foot floater.

A floater! And it looked good! I thought it was going to go in. But Hibbert recovered in time to block the shot. Sure, the outcome was bad. But Perk wouldn’t have been able to gather the ball 15 feet from the hoop last season and pull up for a competent looking floater.

As for Ray, he did what Ray does—hit crucial three-pointers to get the C’s back into the game, the most notable coming on a fast break that started with Rondo swiping the ball from Hibbert and dishing to Ray on the right wing for an easy trey that cut the Indy lead to 66-62 with 6:41 left in the 3rd.

(Side note about that steal: It may have been the most predictable steal in the history of steals. Poor Hibbert ended up having to dribble the ball at the top of the key after a scramble left the rock in his hands with the shot clock running down. Rondo zeroed in on Roy like Jaws targeting a banana boat full of fat children. Roy had no chance).

And here we are, 900-plus words into this thing, and we haven’t mentioned that Paul Pierce played a classic Paul Pierce 4th quarter. The Truth scored 14 of his 21 points in the 4th on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor  and 5-of-5 shooting from the line.

I mean, we’ve seen this movie before, right? Indy suffers what appears to be a fatal gut punch and falls behind 86-81 midway through the 4th after leading the whole game. But they don’t pack it in. They run off five straight to tie it at 86 with 6:41 left.

Pierce enters the game at the 5:50 mark, and after the C’s botch one possession, Pierce does the following on the next three Celtic trips:

-Trademark 19-footer from the right elbow;

-Makes two free throws after attacking the rim and drawing a foul on Hibbert;

-Makes a three-pointer after Sheed tracks down a Hibbert miss and kicks the ball out to Pierce on the left wing

Classic. Pierce was 0-of-9 over the first three quarters before erupting in the 4th. And the thing about Pierce is that he was still productive on offense—or at least not unproductive—over those first three quarters because of his determination to get to the line.

Like I said, we’ve seen this movie before. For 12 years. Appreciate.

Some mini-bullets before I pack the suitcase and get ready to head to the burbs:

• Weird rotation decision from Doc tonight: Tony Allen played zero minutes in the 2nd half after logging 11 in the 1st half. And he didn’t do anything bizarrely stupid to merit a total benching, at least not that I saw. That said, Tony was on the verge of being Bad Tony several times. He nearly fouled Luther Head on a three-pointer from well beyond the arc (and, frankly, he could have been whistled for making some chest-to-chest contact on the release); he took a three-pointer, always a bad idea; and for some reason, he decided to stick himself almost in Head’s jersey at the top of the arc toward the end of the 1st half, allowing Head to easily beat him off the dribble and lay the ball in.

Tony: Settle down. Remember who you are guarding.

• Curious rotation decision #2: No playing time for Shelden Williams. I know Shelden is only 6’9” and thus too “small” to check the 7’2” Hibbert, and that he’s probably not comfortable enough on the perimeter to deal with Murphy.

But Sheed could not guard Murphy at all. He had no chance. He could not close out at the three-point line quickly enough, and he couldn’t stop Murphy off the dribble, either.

With everyone playing heavy minutes due to KG’s absence, I’m surprised Shelden didn’t see any time.

• Scal has to contribute more than zero points and three rebounds in 22 minutes.

• I thought Perk might hurt someone at some point. The refs allowed a lot of contact on rebounds, and Perk lost the ball or didn’t quite get to several boards he normally corrals—and he was really, really frustrated. I’d say he kept his composure, except he gave Hibbert a nice little elbow to the chest after Hibbert just wrapped him up on a rebound.

• About those small first half defensive mistakes I mentioned earlier. I wanted to detail a couple here to a) give you examples; and b) let you know I’m not talking out of my ass when I say these things. It doesn’t mean I’m right, but it does mean I watch the tape before I write stuff like “the Celtics made little mistakes on defense during the 1st half.”

1) At the 2:16 mark in the 1st quarter, Rajon Rondo was guarding T.J. Ford on the right wing as Solomon Jones held the ball at the top of the key. Ford cut toward Jones and Rajon, rather than just staying with T.J., overplayed the cut and jumped into the passing lane for the possible steal. Ford saw this coming, stopped, and turned back toward the baseline, wrong-footing Rajon (to use a tennis term). Jones hit Ford, who shot an easy little 15-footer.

2) With about 8:38 left in the 2nd quarter, Perk grabbed an offensive board only to have Roy Hibbert knock it away from behind. Perk was frustrated, believing he was fouled. He didn’t exactly argue with the refs, but he paused in a standstill position for a second and sort of sulked. Hibbert, meanwhile, sprinted down the floor.

This left Ray Allen in a tough position. Ray was running down the right wing, checking his man (Brandon Rush), but he also had to pay attention to Hibbert moseying down the paint. With Ray in no-man’s land, Rush spotted up behind the three-point line, received a pass from Jones and stroked an easy three.

This kind of stuff was happening all through the first half. You call them little things or effort problems or concentration issues, but the important thing is to realize the C’s cleaned them up in the 2nd half.

Maybe they can flip the switch when they need to?

  • Sam

    Are possessions really determined by adding total FGAs and player TOs? What about the Celtics 40 free throws? That’s gotta be at least 15 possessions right there.

    It just seems strange to think that we’d perform like the leagues best offense on a night when we shot 30% from 3 and 38% overall.

    If the possessions get adjusted (though if I’m wrong I apologize, I don’t know the standard possessions formula) I think it will show that our defense was the major cause of victory.

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

    @Sam: thanks so much for your comment. The formula for possessions (approximate) I use is the one Basketball Reference uses:

    FGAs-ORBs + Team Turnovers + .44 (FTAs).

    Then you multiply that whole thing by .96 for various reasons I won’t explain here.

    But it’s a good thing you flagged me, because something happened tonight that happens once in a while: ESPN’s box score screwed up one category (turnovers) and corrected that category about 30 minutes after the game. They under-counted TOs for some reason, which in turn decreased the pace and increased each team’s efficiency.

    So you were right on the money in suggesting the efficiency numbers seemed funky.

    Normally I check Yahoo.com’s box scores for this very reason, but tonight I didn’t, and I have no better excuse other than I’m frantically packing to get out of town for the holidays.

    But again: Thanks a lot.

  • Sam

    No prob. Your recaps are the best on the blogosphere.

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

    Thanks a lot, man.

  • George

    I only watched the first half due to holiday madness (followed the 2nd on my phone), but I know Scal did manage to get to the line in the first half and hit his free throws. Stood out because it felt/looked like he could be the spark of energy to get the team back on track, as they were playing pretty poorly on both ends at that point in the game. And sure enough, he gets to the line right away. Then sure enough, he clanged a 3 right after. Oh well. Anyways, he did have 2 pts.

    Good recap though, per usual. Makes me slightly less upset I missed Pierce’s 4th quarter, so thanks for that.

  • lakerschamps

    paul pierce is a punk and will always be one! grab a knee pierce and a tissue!

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