Pace: 92 possessions (average)
Offensive Efficiency: 98.9 points/100 possessions (Nets-ian)
Defensive Efficiency: 120.6 points allowed/100 possessions (beyond league worst)
Thumbnail: The Grizzlies came into Boston and did everything but steal the C’s picnic basket. Memphis shredded the NBA’s best defense using mostly a simple high screen/roll, Boston got next to nothing from its front line and the C’s suffered just their second 20-point loss of the season.
Recap: Wow. I know, it’s the second night of a back-to-back in March, and the Grizzlies are a decent road team (now 15-17), and all the rest of it. But to lose to a .500 team at home by 20—with the 20-point margin actually under-stating how badly Memphis whipped Boston? I can’t just chalk that up to the vagaries of the schedule.
To my eyes, this was the single worst defensive performance of the KG/Ray/Pierce/Thibodeau era. This isn’t a black-or-white “Boston sucks and Memphis did nothing of note!” thing. Memphis has spent most of the season in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can run a nice screen/roll, Rudy Gay can score and O.J. Mayo can go off. And there’s a reason every team in the NBA runs the screen/roll on half of its possessions—it works.
But the missed assignments, the inability to adjust, the communication breakdowns—this was not Celtic basketball as we’ve come to know it.
I said earlier that this might be the worst defensive performance in the post’-07 era, and the numbers show I’m not far off.
Let’s look at some numbers:
• Tonight marked the 13th game this season in which Boston allowed a team to shoot at least 50 percent, according to Basketball Reference. Perspective: Teams cracked 50 percent just 17 times combined in ’07-08 and ’08-09. Six teams have pulled it off since the start of calendar year 2010.
• This marks 7th time since the start of the ’08 season that a team has hit 55 percent of its shots in a game against the C’s. Three of those games have come in 2010.
So if this isn’t the worst defensive performance of the New Big Three era, it’s in the discussion. Marcus Williams and Mike Conley—hardly Magic Johnson and Norm Nixon—combined for 28 points and 11 assists on 11-of-19 shooting. They didn’t lead the Grizz in scoring, but they killed the C’s tonight—both through their own play and Boston’s mistakes.
Just look at the evidence:
• (1:09, 1st Q): Rondo drifts off of Williams on the left side and has to run hard to Williams when Gay swings the ball there. Williams beats him cleanly and gets in the lane for a floater. He misses, but Hasheem Thabeet takes advantage of the C’s help rotation to get himself an uncontested tip-in.
• (0:33, 1st Q): Rudy Gay (guarded by Daniels) sets a screen in delayed transition for Williams on the right wing. The screen catches Rajon Rondo, but Daniels does not switch onto Williams. Nobody does. He penetrates into the lane finds Gay on the roll for a dunk.
• (8:51, 2nd Q): Williams blows by a reaching Nate Robinson at the top of the key. No screen needed. And-1
• (5:55, 2nd Q): Rondo botches his job as a help defender on a Mayo/Gasol high screen/roll Memphis runs in an emergency with the shot clock running down. The C’s trap Mayo, and he dishes to Gasol at the foul line on the roll. KG reacts correctly by leaving Randolph on the right wing and moving over to take Gasol. That leaves Rondo as the lone defender on the right side of the floor, and he’s responsible for two guys: Randolph and Conley, who is standing in the right corner.
Randolph, for whatever reason, drifts out 20 feet from the hoop instead of cutting to the rim for a pass from Gasol. Rondo decides to chase Randolph there and leave Conley alone. Conley is shooting 42 percent from three-point range. Swish. And this one hurt, because the C’s had just “cut” the Grizz lead to 16, and that passed for a run in this game.
• (0:50, 3rd): Williams and Gay run a little side screen/roll on the right wing near the corner, with Gay setting the screen and rolling into the post. Rondo switches onto Gay and gets into standard post defense position—on Gay’s back. Pierce appears to think he should try and switch back onto Gay, so he leaves Williams—who still has the ball—and moves back toward Rudy. Williams, who hadn’t been planning things this way, realizes no one is guarding him and hits a three.
(9:21, 4thQ): Sam Young outruns the entire C’s defense and gets a transition dunk off a nice Williams outlet. Yes, the guy Young had been guarding (Daniels) went for an offensive rebound, but Robinson and Wallace were both back in plenty of time and either didn’t see Young or decided not to guard him.
There are more. I don’t have the energy. Bottom line: The Grizz ran their offense well, but the Celtics helped by making the kind of mistakes the worst defensive teams in the league make every night. We’ve been privileged for the last 2 1/2 seasons to watch a team play great defense damn near every game. Tonight we got to see how the other half lives.
• In the 1st quarter, when the C’s shot 5-of-20, I actually thought their offense was (mostly) functioning well. They were just missing good shots. KG was 0-of-3, all on open jumpers from 20 feet and out, and Rondo was 1-of-6, with four of the misses coming from 10 feet and in. These were good shots. They just didn’t fall.
• After that? Things got worse, and they got worse mostly because the C’s turned into a team that—save for a few decent Sheed possessions—had no inside offensive presence. It will be hard for Boston to win when Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Paul Pierce take just 21 shots between them, and when Perk and KG combined hit just five field goals and zero free throws.
The C’s offense for the last 36 minutes devolved for long stretches into Rajon Rondo driving into the teeth of the defense and trying a tough lay-up. Rajon led the team with 15 field-goal attempts, and I wonder what the C’s record is when he takes the most shots.
• Hoopdata doesn’t have its box score up yet, but I’m betting this was one of the C’s worst games this season in terms of shooting percentage at the rim. Lots of missed shots from inside four feet, with Rondo and Daniels (1-of-6) leading the way.
• Michael Finley is getting run in the 1st half. Tony Allen is not.
• Nate Robinson has 19 more games to get acclimated to Boston’s system and get his game in gear. Tommy Heinsohn can go on and on about how Nate wasn’t brought here to create for other people, but he was brought here to do things Eddie House can’t do—mainly, get to the rim. Nate took two shots tonight, and they were both three-pointers, and the first one was a classic Nate Robinson “I’m just gonna pull up in transition with no one under the rim and jack this baby.” Eddie House can do that, and he can do it better than Nate Robinson.
I’ve written it before: Over 2008 and 2009, Nate was one of the most effective guards in the league at getting to the rim. That’s the player Danny Ainge wanted. That player has yet to make an appearance in Boston.
• Speaking of Heinsohn, I think he briefly lost his mind at the end of the game during his attempt at an explanation for Boston’s struggles. He said that teams play hard against the C’s because the team is “still kinda defending” the 2008 title. I see his point, but….
• I actually thought Marquis Daniels was a positive tonight despite 1-of-6 shooting and a -13 line. He brought energy on both ends, and he got to the rim.
• Rasheed Wallace was credited with six steals tonight. That ties his regular season career high, according to BR. The good news: Rasheed Wallace recorded six steals. The bad news: This may encourage his habit of reaching around and trying to poke the ball away on every entry pass. This is a high-risk move, though it may be Sheed’s best defensive strategy at this point in his career.
• An observation about Glen Davis: He moves laterally better than he moves vertically, and he needs to become an on-the-ground mover if he wants to be an effective offense player. Example: Robinson and Davis run a nice screen/roll on the right side with about 10:45 left in the 2nd quarter. Nate dishes to Baby on the baseline, and Thabeet is back-pedaling to stop Baby from driving. Thabeet appears to be in good position, but Davis slides by him on the baseline and draws a shooting foul.
Watch the tape—it’s almost startling how quickly Baby darts through the small space Thabeet has left him along the baseline, and he does it without getting much lift off the ground.
This is the kind of offensive player Baby needs to be. He’s effective when he makes larger guys move side-to-side or foul line-to-baseline with him, but not when it becomes a jumping contest. Another example: That little over-the-shoulder pseudo-hook shot he tosses up when dribbling right-to-left through the lane. It’s unblockable.
About 22 percent of Baby’s shots have been blocked this year, according to Hoopdata, and that’s an astronomical number for a player of any size. Davis can get that number down if he stops trying to go straight up over and through bigger guys and sticks to his best offensive moves. And those involve him staying close to the ground.
That’s it for tonight. More tomorrow.