Pace: 100 possessions (slow)
Offensive Efficiency: 112 points/100 possessions (elite)
Defensive Efficiency: 106 points allowed/100 possessions (league average)
Thumbnail: Rajon Rondo is the best player on the Celtics. Right now. And Paul Pierce may have thrown one of the 10 greatest inbounds passes of all time.
Sometimes people say things like, “He couldn’t have done that any better.” Most of the time it’s bunk. This time it’s not: The Celtics, down 101-99 with 0.6 seconds left, could not have executed a half-court inbound lob play for Rajon Rondo any better. It’s not possible. Even when these end-game lob plays work, they still usually don’t result in baskets, because either the pass is an inch or two off (Courtney Lee’s miss in Game 2 of the Finals last year) or because the defense scrambles just enough to force a tougher lay-up (Charlotte’s goal-tend successful defense of the McHale-Dee Brown lob in the ’93 playoffs).
Paul Pierce, that was a pantheon (regular-season) pass.
And kudos to Doc for putting Scal in the game to stand behind the three-point line on the same side as Rondo was to receive the lob; Scal’s presence made Udonis Haslem think before helping on Rondo, even though Rondo had an open path to the rim and Scal has made one three since late November.
This is, of course, a terrible decision by Haslem. But that’s the point of having Scal out there—to create a situation where a terrible decision is at least possible. (That almost certainly would have been House had Eddie been healthy, right?).
What a play.
It’s a simple play, really, one the Heat should have been expecting. What else can you really do with 0.6 left? Even though Big Baby set a perfect (and moving, but not illegal by usual NBA standards) screen on the left wing to free Rondo, there’s no way you can allow a player to head unimpeded to the hoop with 0.6 seconds left. Come off of someone. Anyone.
Either way, a great play call from Doc, and a possession so perfect that it made up for the two prior late-game possessions, which were awful. The first (with about 15 seconds left in regulation and the C’s up two) was a classic Pierce isolation with four guys standing around—a play we’ve seen hundreds of times over the last 11 years. Wade disrupted the second (which began with five seconds left and the score tied at 99) by anticipating Ray Allen’s move right at the top of the key, stealing the ball and going in for a buzzer-beating dunk in a play eerily similar to this one that beat Chicago last season.
That buzzer-beating Rondo lay-in was just one of eight or nine leap-off-your-couch plays in this game, which felt almost like one of those Chicago playoff games from last season. The late-game heroics of Pierce, Rondo and Ray Allen—two huge threes and a tough lefty lay-in to put the C’s up 106-103 with about 1:30 left in OT—allow us to leave in a good mood despite the 24 turnovers, the 17 Miami offensive rebounds (compared to a paltry five for Boston) and the off-and-on sloppy defense.
The turnovers and the utter lack of offensive rebounding (and, yes, the 41 foul shots) resulted in the C’s taking just 67 shots—their second-lowest total of the season—despite the fact that the game went into overtime. The Heat took 31 more shots than Boston—and lost! Dwyane Wade scored 44 points, dished seven assists and made the insane steal-and-dunk—and the Heat lost!
Seriously: This box score looks ridiculous, and this game was a mighty strange kind of fun.
I mean, do you know how hard it is to play five extra minutes of basketball and take just 67 shots?
Really, really hard. As in, this is only the 23rd time since the 1986-87 season (as far back as the Basketball Reference database goes for single games) that a team has played in overtime and managed 70 or fewer shot attempts. In other words, this is a once-in-a-season thing.
And the C’s got away with it, in part because of Rajon Rondo’s continued emergence as a true offensive star, which is one of the five or 10 most compelling things going on in the NBA right now. Rajon scored 10 of his team-high 25 points in the last 2:00 of regulation and overtime, shooting 5-of-7 from the floor with just one turnover. He was the best player on the floor during overtime. He dominated.
His last basket, which put the C’s up 110-106 with 34 seconds to go, was a play designed for him to score. Rondo dribbled the ball at the top of the arc as Ray Allen (defended by Wade) sprinted up from the right corner to set a screen to Rondo’s right. Except Ray didn’t actually set the screen. He slowed down as if he were going to set the screen, and then, as he got to the spot at which he would have planted his feet, suddenly accelerated behind Rondo’s man (Chalmers) and over to the left wing behind the three-point line.
It’s a neat little play, designed to confuse both defenders. If Chalmers pauses, Rondo can drive by everyone. If Wade freezes, Rondo can kick to Ray for an open three.
Neither guy really froze, but Rondo didn’t need Chalmers to freeze. He just needed a millisecond of an advantage. He got it, and he scored—easily.
And that was the thing about those Rondo hoops. They looked easy. That’s a new thing for him—to look like a dominant scorer shooting over lesser defenders.
Wow. Five years, $55 million. Sign me up.
That said, Rondo’s defense—like that of most of his teammates—was a step to the sloppy side tonight. Everybody was guilty. Shelden Williams forgot who he was supposed to be guarding after some interior switches with about 9:50 left in the second, allowing Joel Anthony to get free for a dunk. Rasheed Wallace was lazy boxing out Joel Anthony on a missed Wade free throw, allowing the Heat to rebound the miss and make a three just before halftime. (And Sheed’s weak side defense was a step slow all night, something David Thorpe was harping on earlier this season. It has been better lately; tonight was a step back).
Tony Allen stupidly tried to poke the ball away from Wade 30 feet from the hoop, allowing Wade to blow by for an easy floater. Rondo just decided to leave Chalmers completely and hang out along the baseline early in the 4th; Chalmer knocked down what amounted to a warm-up three-pointer when the Heat swung the ball his way to put Miami up 83-77. (I know Chalmers is shooting 34 percent from deep, but you can’t allow guards to shoot threes without anyone above the foul line to contest it).
Just a bunch of little mistakes, all game long. Miami had a lot to do with this, obviously. Wade is a menace, and their bigs, especially Udonis Haslem, punished Boston for helping off of them.
Offensively, the team just turns the ball over too much, but we’ve been talking about this for three years and it hasn’t changed, so just cross your fingers and hope they cough it up on 15 percent of their possessions instead of 24 percent (tonight’s number). Fifteen percent still ranks near the bottom of the league, but 24 percent is just off the charts awful (literally—no team comes close to that over the course of season).
The C’s turned the ball over on six of their final eight possessions of the 3rd quarter, according to the play-by-play. That’s how you turn an eight-point lead into a three-point deficit in four minutes.
When the C’s hold onto the ball, they might be the best offensive team in the league.
Let’s wrap with some bullets:
• What a see-saw game for Ray Allen. He can’t guard Dwyane Wade, and Wade just torched him for 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the 1st quarter. The C’s were helpless. Wade blew by Ray one-on-one from the top of the arc. If the C’s big guy jumped out on screen/rolls, Wade just drove on by him. If the C’s big guy sagged down to help and cut off penetration, Wade hit mid-range shots.
It’s not Ray’s fault. No one can guard Wade, and it’s an impossible assignment for Ray. Tony Allen had some success checking Wade in the 2nd half when he wasn’t falling for Wade’s pump fakes (and committing shooting fouls as a result) or making ill-advised tries at a steal.
This will be an issue if these two teams meet in the playoffs.
• But of course, Ray was gigantic on offense down the stretch. He made a semi-contested three off a curl from about three feet beyond the arc to pull Boston within 91-88 with 4:24 to go. He lost Wade along the baseline (despite the lack of any solid screen—tisk, tisk, Dwayne) and hit another three from the left wing to give the C’s a 99-95 lead with 53 seconds go to.
You know, Ray is putting together quite a Boston highlight reel. The ankle-breaking of Vujacic in the ’08 Finals (the biggest basket of the series?), approximately 82 huge shots in the Bulls series and some monster regular-season shots late last season (at Philly) and early this season.
I’m beginning to think he might be a clutch shooter or something.
• The C’s gave up a ton of offensive boards tonight (17), but they also grabbed 37 defensive boards, meaning Boston pulled down about 69 of all available defensive rebounds. That’s not a good defensive rebounding percentage; it would rank 29th in the league. But it’s not as catastrophically bad as it looks. The turnovers were worse, in context.
• It’s at the point now when Sheed is yelling “Ball Don’t Lie!” even after obvious Boston fouls. I really think he might be going crazy. The overuse is making me dislike the phrase.
• Did you notice that when Sheed fouled out and began yapping at the refs from the bench, that J.R. Giddens and Tony Allen stepped in front of him and put their arms up? What is the point of this? Are they trying to prevent the refs from seeing his facial expressions or reading his lips? You know you have what might be termed a “sass” problem if holding you back isn’t good enough—if your teammates also have to make sure the refs can’t see what you’re doing.
• Perk did not take a single shot in the 2nd half. Anybody have an idea why? The Heat bigs played much better on both ends in the 2nd half, but I’m not sure if they changed up their defensive strategy in any major way. Anyone see anything?
• Perk’s movement without the ball has improved at least two-fold from last season. At one point in the 2nd quarter, the C’s ran two cutters through the lane, one after the other, as Sheed held the ball on the right block. Perk was the second cutter; he received the ball just inside the foul like and glided in for the dunk.
The C’s likely would not have trusted Perk enough last season to give him the ball on the move 15 feet from the hoop.
• The 41 foul shots are a season high (by just one). Pierce scored 17 points despite making just four shots from the field. Just another game in which the captain finds a way to score.
• The officiating was shaky in key points. Yes, Heat fans, the refs screwed up by whistling Q-Rich for a foul with 1:35 to go and the C’s up 95-93. Richardson was guarding Pierce tightly as Truth gathered the ball and, in the process, elbowed Richardson in the face (a glancing blow, but an elbow nonetheless). Somehow this was a foul on Richardson. He might want to talk to Mike Bibby about how much it sucks to get whistled for a foul simply for getting elbowed in the face.
I’d like to think that the obviously bad call—and the unnecessary tech on Richardson that followed—made up for the fact that the Heat got four gift points tonight from one accidental shot (Arroyo losing the ball and having it fly into the basket) and one Sheed “tip-in” on the wrong end.
The basketball gods evened things out.
• That’s it for tonight. Look for more tomorrow. Lots to write about.