Pace: 92 possessions (near average)
Offensive Efficiency: 119.6 points/100 possessions (off the charts good)
Defensive Efficiency: 115.2 points allowed/100 possessions (off the charts bad)
Thumbnail: The Celtics prevailed in a shootout largely because the Knicks defense was horrible and cannot guard the paint. The C’s had no answer for New York’s offense, especially any screen/roll involving David Lee, and Nate Robinson was a total non-factor in his debut for Boston. The crowd gave Eddie House a long standing ovation, and Eddie returned the love.
With 1:43 left and the C’s up 109-106, we got to experience what it feels like to see Eddie House pop free on the left wing for a wide-open potential game-tying three-pointer against your team. It is not a fun experience, especially when (as was the case tonight) the shot looks to be on line. The ball went halfway down and rattled out, missing by a fraction of an inch. The Knicks missed their last five shots and hit just 7-of-19 in the 4th quarter, as the C’s clamped down on the Knicks for about four minutes after watching New York shred them for the first 44 minutes of the game.
But that four minutes of defense was all it took (on that end) to beat the Knicks tonight. Boston did whatever it wanted offensively. The C’s put up an astounding 60 points in the paint and tied their season-high with 34 assists; Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins hit 15-of-24 from the floor combined, and more than that, they were able to act as distributors on offense because the Knicks had to send constant help to deal with mismatches.
Some of those mismatches were the inevitable result of New York’s roster limitations; David Lee isn’t a center, Wilson Chandler isn’t a power forward and Sergio Rodriguez could not guard Ray Allen on any continent, under any set of basketball rules.
Wait. Sergio Rodriguez was guarding Ray Allen?
Rodriguez, a 6’3” point guard who can’t defend point guards, had to defend Ray Allen because the Knicks continue to be one of those teams that stick a big guy (Danilo Gallinari tonight) on Rajon Rondo and have that big guy play about 10 feet off of Rajon, daring him to shoot jump shots.
Last year, the strategy unnerved Rajon (and the team), and Rondo responded by putting his head down and driving to the hoop. That can work when you’re playing a team without a shot-blocking threat. It doesn’t work against Orlando.
So what we saw tonight from Rajon and the C’s was encouraging. Rondo shot seven long jumpers, and he hit three of them. That percentage—3-of-7—doesn’t sound like much. But one of those four misses was a buzzer-beater heave on the run from 26 feet away, and another was an off-the-dribble fadeaway from just inside the arc with the shot clock about to expire.
In other words: Rondo attempted five long jumpers we could reasonably expect him to make, and he hit three. That is progress.
Other ways the C’s coped with the Knicks defensive strategy:
• The Rugby Scrum. The C’s featured it in crunch time for the first time tonight, and Rondo generally remained very aggressive all game.
• Running the offense through the post. KG, Wallace, Baby and Perk combined for 10 assists tonight, and that actually understates their contributions as post passers. For instance: At about the 7:00 mark of the 2nd quarter, Nate Robinson tossed the ball into Sheed on the left block. Realizing Sheed had an easy mismatch against (I think) Wilson Chandler, Nate’s guy edged down toward Sheed. Nate responded by cutting around Sheed to the baseline side, taking a screen/hand-off and dribbling under the hoop.
That drew help from the Knick player guarding Brian Scalabrine in the right (opposite) corner. Nate dished to Scal for the open three. A nice play, created from the post.
• Side screen/rolls. The Knicks switched a lot tonight even though they don’t really have the personnel to do it. So the C’s occasionally took the ball out of Rajon’s hands and had, say, Marquis Daniels and Glen Davis run a screen/roll on the side of the court. Check the 8:59 mark of the 3rd quarter, when that play results in Tracy McGrady trying to deal with Baby on the right block. The Knicks sent help, and Baby found Daniels cutting for an easy lay-in.
• Nate Robinson made his debut tonight, and it did not go well. He finished 2-of-7, looked horrid on screen/roll defense and generally did nothing Eddie House couldn’t have done. But debuts are a tricky thing. Did you watch Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood’s first game with Dallas? They looked tentative and over-eager at the same time, and Butler especially finished with a horrible stat line.
Toss in the fact that Nate was recovering from the flu and facing his old team, and we shouldn’t have expected much.
One thing of note: I praised the trade because the main difference between House and Nate is that Robinson, when his game is on, can get to the rim as often as any guard in the league. Of his seven attempts tonight, only one came at the rim, and David Lee blocked it. The rest were long jumpers.
We expect more, and we’ll get it, eventually.
• Hey, Bill Walker! 7 points in 13 minutes for Bill, including two monster dunks. The best: His fast-break slam in the first quarter. Sheed appeared to be in position to foul or challenge, and instead he just ducked out of the way. Let’s just move on.
• Ray just abused Rodriguez tonight. He did it running off screens, beating him off the dribble and even backing him down in the low post, where the C’s went to Allen after House missed that three with 1:43 to go. The Knicks doubled, and Allen threw the ball away for one of Boston’s 13 (progress!) turnovers. Still: 24 points on just 14 shots for Ray, despite making just 1-of-5 from deep. Good stuff.
• Despite the 60 points in the paint and the C’s general dominance inside, four of Sheed’s six shot attempts came from 22 feet and out, and just one came from in the paint.
• Oh: The Knicks torched the C’s defense for the first 44 minutes of this game. Despite missing 12 of 19 shots in the 4th quarter, New York became just the 11th team this season to shoot over 50 percent against Boston. (This happened just 17 times combined in 2008 and 2009).
And they were able to do it for (basically) one reason: David Lee is a beast in the screen/roll. Those of you who think Lee is the creation of Mike D’Antoni and a fast-paced offense—you’re wrong. The Knicks average just a single possession per game over the league average, and Lee is a polished half court offensive player in any system. A Lee/Player X pick-and-roll is the Knicks basic play, but he also initiates the offense as a passer at the top of the key and can hit the 18-footer on a pick-and-pop.
Lee and New York had Boston’s defense scrambling; the C’s were a step behind all night. Lee hit his first five shots and finished with 28-15 on 13-of-22 shooting.
• Now, the C’s didn’t help things on D. Nate Robinson’s screen/roll defense was awful. On his first defensive possession, he nearly fell over chasing after Sergio Rodriguez by going under a Lee screen, only Rodriguez had stopped before dribbling around the screen while Nate’s momentum nearly carried him out of bounds.
Lee’s man (Sheed) had to switch onto Rodriguez while Lee rolled to the hoop for an easy And-One.
• Bad things happen when Nate Robinson goes under screens. Watch for this.
• The C’s also couldn’t defend the Lee/McGrady screen/roll. Perk just couldn’t jump out on T-Mac and recover to find Lee quickly enough, and the C’s back-end help rarely arrived on time.
Is this disturbing? Sure. But the Knicks and their wacky line-ups can do this to you every once in a while. Check the tape at 2:52 of the 3rd for an example: House and Lee run a screen/roll at the top, and Lee darts to the rim when Perk (following the C’s protocol) slides over to help on House.
The natural next step is for another big guy to slide over and help on Lee. But there is no big guy to do that. The only other big on the floor (KG) is at the three-point line checking Al Harrington. That left Tony Allen guarding Chandler in the right corner as the only person in position to rotate over and help.
TA didn’t realize it, and Lee got the easy flush.
• Speaking of Chandler: He hit 3-of-5 from deep. He’s shooting 28 percent from three this season.
• Sergio Rodriguez hit 3-of-4 from deep. He is a 31 percent career three-point shooter.
• Somehow I haven’t mentioned that Rajon Rondo tied his season high with 16 dimes. That happened.
• What were the Knicks thinking at the end of the game, when the C’s got the ball up 109-106 with 26 seconds left and New York waited 16 seconds to foul—and they still had a foul to give!?
• Rondo had a monster dunk. You can watch it here.
That’s it for tonight. We’ll have more tomorrow, and the C’s (likely without the Truth) will face Cleveland on Thursday.