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An Argument Against the Pierce Iso

 

Henry Abbott on TrueHoop has a post examining Kobe Bryant’s incredible run of clutch jumpers this season. Kobe is 7-of-12 from the floor on shots that could win or tie a game in the last 10 seconds of regulation or overtime. That is insane. The league average on such shots over the last decade has been in in the high-20 percent area; Kobe is now 26-of-89 (29.2 percent) over the last decade in this situation, a mark Abbott describes as “slightly above league average.”

Using numbers from the NBA’s Stats and Information Research group, Abbott tells us the following:

  • Bryant has attempted by far the most such shots of anyone over the last decade. His 89 is trailed by Vince Carter’s 69, Paul Pierce’s 57, Dwyane Wade’s 51 and LeBron James’ 50.
  • Bryant’s 26 makes also lead the League, followed by Carter with 20, Ray Allen with 17 and Allen Iverson’s 14. Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce have each made 13.

You see Paul Pierce’s name there? Add up those two bullet points, and you find that Pierce is 13-of-57 on shots that could win or tie a game in the final 10 seconds of regulation and overtime. That works out to 22.8 percent. That’s not good.

I am not arguing that Paul Pierce is a bad “clutch” player. That would be a tough argument to make, since he comes out fairly well in various other studies that define clutch a bit more broadly—as, say, the final five minutes of the 4th quarter or overtime with the scoring margin at five points or less. Those studies—by 82games.com—show that Pierce gets to the line and dishes assists in such games at well above average rates. His shooting percentages are also decent.

And I have defended Pierce in too many bar debates with friends to count. His performance in Game 7 against the Cavaliers in 2008 is arguably the greatest single-game clutch performance in Boston history. He won the 2008 Finals MVP. I once made a list of Pierce’s five greatest clutch performances ever, and I couldn’t limit the list to just five games.

But these numbers on game-winning/tying shots suggest that the Celtics could do better than isolating Paul Pierce in these specific situations. We have a decade’s worth of evidence—albeit in a relatively small sample of 57 shots—suggesting that Pierce makes these shots at a below average rate, and the average rate is very low to begin with.

Obviously, context matters. If Paul Pierce has a favorable match-up and the opponent fails to double him—think Game 5 against Chicago last season—then, yes, you go to him and let him work. But the broader picture suggests the Celtics can do better, and they have the talent to do better.

  • http://www.livefromapt.blogspot.com w2

    Celtics doing better…yes please.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Great job Zach!

    Part of this 4th quarter ineptitude is going to the basket too late. Teams watch film & know the Cs hold the ball & then go to the basket at the same time every time. They know the exact spot Paul is trying to get to. Other teams also know the Cs pet plays because, quite frankly, there are so few of them. This team is rife with arrogance & laziness. They think they are entitled to respect & forgot that they need to get down in the mud & fight tooth & nail & work hard every possession for it. They are almost prissy in the way they play. Yes, Larry would say they were playing like a bunch of sissies.

    Putting in some NEW end of game plays is not like climbing Everest. Seems like Doc may be too distracted with his son’s basketball or maybe Doc is just lazy. If Paul had gone a few seconds earlier as the deer were collapsing on his drive he could have kicked it back to a wide open (great night of shooting vs the deer) KG. It would have been much like the Knicks game winner. Personally, if the Cs need a deuce I would much rather see KG take the shot (like the game vs the Lakers at home). If the Cs need a trey then give it to Ray with maximal screenage. Paul can do the heavy lifting of drawing the D & being the decoy to kick it out for an open shot. I think most of us would rather see Ray > KG > Paul take the last shot, but they need to have some NEW SIMPLE plays & start earlier instead of dribbling themselves into these highly contested, predictable, dead end plays.

  • Idaho

    Very, very, very good point about waiting too long. I think this has to do with why they turn the ball over at the end of close games as well bc they wait too long and make a desperate pass (Last game vs. San Antonio 2009 of regular season and many others, including a few early this year).

    Also, this is the 2nd time all they need is two points and they take a 20 footer with a hand in the face!!! Finish at the rim if all you need is a 2-footer. Its simple probability.

    We need to change the quote to……”Imagine the stupidity though, the wonderful stupidity of a man who needs two to tie or three to win, has the time to do either one, and says ‘Lets shoot the worst shot in basketball, straddling the line’.

    Come on DOC!!!!

  • Trashandsend

    Yes, but Pierce’s one-on-one skills are fading most times in most games. This is yet another reason why Doc Rivers is the wrong coach for this bunch–bad at both ends of the player-age spectrum. With young players, his guidance is poor and uneven (TA; Robinson; Davis) and refusal to play them saps morales (Walker; Giddens). For older players, he mismanages their minutes, chemistry and attitudes (Pierce, Wallace).

    Bet he’s gone after the season. Dumping him now would probably rattle an already dispirited bunch of players more than the fresh insights and attitudes would help. All-in-all, a sad situation.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    iso game is a pet peeve of mine. the analytics guys should debunk this somehow. pierce is effective in iso only when other teams have to worry about ray and kg. defense is at a disadvantage when they have to react to the unknowns of the offense, take this out of the equation and you have bad offense.

    call me crazy, but i’ll give kobe that tough, contested, baseline, fallaway shot against the raps everytime.

    i think iso was a major factor in the cavs losing to the magic last year. the magic got warm and they are tough to defend when anyone could hurt you. bron got surprised to be down and reverted to trying to win the game himself. all the other cavs went ice cold and the magic just keyed on him. yes he made that huge shot, but maybe if got his team-mates more involved and didn’t bomb so many long Js in that series, they wouldn’t have been in that situation. don’t get me wrong, lebron is the best player and best scorer/playmaker in the league, but he changed his game in important stretches of that series….could happen again on the big stage with even bigger expectations. i hope the Cs face the cavs in round 2 instead of atlanta or orlando.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Thanks for the info about the game Koolaid. Being court side you can see so much more, especially body language between players.

    I would concede Paul taking the end of game shot if he was in rhythm & on fire. It seems like Doc is stuck on what has worked in the past instead of what is working in the present moment. It also does not make sense to have Rondo on the floor for the final play if you are trying to set solid screens or go for an open jump shot. Rondo’s man is bound to cheat & double someone else or clog the lane. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have another shooter out there in the corner or behind the 3pt line to spread the floor? That would at least keep the defense honest. It just seems like the Cs don’t really think through end of game strategy, like they are oblivious to how teams are actually defending them now.

    I agree with Idaho that 99% of the time it is better to get closer to the basket when you need that last shot. The end of game is tough though for the Cs because #1 the refs swallow their whistles (& especially this year with Paul’s driving the gauntlet, I mean lane) #2 I don’t know of any C who makes me feel really comfortable in the post (KG looks hesitant & nervous. Perk panics & shuffles his feet. Baby is a blocked shot waiting to happen. Paul cannot draw a foul down there from any ref. Quis will try to force a shot vs 3-5 players instead of kicking it back out. Sheed is an enigma) #3 teams tend to collapse on the Cs clogging the paint. Is there a stat for the most blocked teams ? Wonder where the Cs would be on that? If you are talking mid range jumper then I agree, but if you are saying drive the ball inside or post up then I’m not so sure because of lack of fouls called when driving the ball at the end of games (unless you are LeBron) & lack of lift for most of the Cs.

  • jimmy

    What are you C’s fan complaining about? This what happens to a supposed “storied” franchise(it was storied in only 2 decades: 60s and 80s) that intentionally tanks a season (Lakers have never stooped that low) to try to get Kevin Durant, then gets their old buddy to take a lopsided trade for KG (Lakers offered Odom and Bynum for KG and McHale said no, but wanted Al Jefferson….puuuhlease for all those C’s fan complaining about Gasol).

    They sold their future to win 1 title. Of course, had the Lakers had 2 of their starters (Ariza was never 100% and Bynum) and the refs didn’t give away Game 1 (look at the FT discrepancy) this would be a whole new debate.

    Regardless, you guys are old and capped out. This whole thing was always just a 1-2 year rental (should’ve kept Posey) and now you guys are done!

    Even if the Lakers lose this year in the Finals, they are still primed for a 3-5 year run.

    So all you bandwagon C’s fans….welcome to reality and realize in a matter of a few years you guys will be second on most NBA championships ever (btw, the Lakers have 9 rings out of 15 Finals appearance in the last 30 years! Celtics have 4 rings out of 6 Finals appearances)

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

    @Jimmy: Great comment, considering the post had to do with Paul Pierce isolating in late-game situations and not, you know, the entire history of the Boston Celtics.

    KOBE RULZZZ!!!!

  • DRJ1

    Hate the late game Paul isos. Such a bad idea. For many reasons, of which a prime one is that the other side KNOWS they’re going to do exactly that. Because that’s what Doc does.

    The right thing to do? Give the shot to the player the other side LEAST expects to get it. Get that guy open, and let him shoot. An open shot by almost ANY player is far more likely to succeed than a tough one-on-one by your best shooter. And I agree… all those Kobe late-game heroics… are a really stupid way to try to win games. But hey, it makes Kobe feel good about himself, at least, when he hits it.

  • Jason

    I was arguing against the Pierce iso even in 2008 when they were “working.”

  • I love Green

    Just give it to Ray.

  • I love Green

    Hey Jimmy shut the hell up we’re 9-2 against the Lakers in the finals. Yeahhh eat it son 9-2!

  • PoorJimmy

    Poor Jimmy… Still upset about that Game 6 A$$ WHIPPING!!! Somehow Bynum wouldve scored 42 points to pull them outta that though… Lmfao!!! Greatest spanking in NBA History! I’m gonna play that ish at my funeral! Lol

  • Tom

    Pierce should be used as a decoy, Ray is much better in the clutch. Everytime we need a last minute, it’s always Pierce iso. Outside of the Atlanta game last year, I don’t recall too many others

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