Pace: 92 possessions (average)
Offensive Efficiency: 102.2 points/100 possessions (awful)
Defensive Efficiency: 93.4 points allowed/100 possessions (beyond league best)
Thumbnail: The Celtics blitzed the Kings 57-37 in the first half, as Rajon Rondo directed an ultra-efficient offense and played might what well be the best 4:00 of his career in the 2nd quarter. Rondo was directly responsible for all 16 points the C’s scored in a ridiculous 3:40 span late in the 2nd quarter that broke the game open. The bench—and we’re talking the deep bench—fell apart offensively in the 3rd and 4th quarters, allowing the Kings to creep back within single-digits. The starters closed it out.
Rondo set a regular-season career high with 18 assists and he broke Rick Fox’s single-season steals record. The Kings offense looked isolation-heavy and produced nothing, save for Carl Landry’s 30-point, 10-of-16 destruction of the C’s front line. I love Carl Landry.
There will be a segment of fans who howl about how the bench allowed Sacto to trim a 24-point lead down to single-digits, forcing Doc to reinsert the starters the last 6:00 (or more, in the cases of Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo) of the 4th quarter. I get that. But they’ll be focusing on the wrong half of this game.
This is the NBA. When an elite team like Boston goes up 25 against a bad team missing its top player, the intensity level and focus are going to fall off. This had already started happening before Doc inserted the bench mid-way through the 3rd quarter. The starters were no longer running the half court sets with the same precision, and Rondo was gunning for street ball highlights instead of playing sound offense. At one point, Rajon grabbed an offensive rebound along the right baseline and turned the ball out toward the corner. As he performed this routine act, he decided, for the hell of it, to dribble behind the back and through his legs with his left hand.
Even Heinsohn got on him for that. With about 2:10 to go in the 3rd, Rondo threaded a lefty fastball to Marquis Daniels, who was literally standing out of bounds under the rim. Rondo passed up an open 18-foot jumper with Carl Landry guarding him to do this.
And you’ll read stuff about how “the bench” let the Kings back into it with their failure to execute on offense. This is true, in a literal sense. But the “bench” that played the 2nd half tonight in no way resembles the “bench” that will play in contested playoff games. Brian Scalabrine, Shelden Williams and Tony Allen are not going to share court time in a real game.
The 26-10 Sacto run that bridged the 3rd and 4th quarters is not relevant. So let’s move on.
• The Celtics played a very efficient 1st half despite shooting 46.7 percent (21-of-45)—a nice percentage, but below the C’s average of 48.5 percent. By my count on the play-by-play, the C’s had approximately 50 offensive possessions in the 1st half. They scored 57 points, which works out to 114 points per 100 possessions—a number that would the league. Boston averages about 107.5 points per 100 possessions.
So how did the C’s put up such gaudy offensive numbers while shooting a below average (for them) percentage?
I’ll offer a few reasons:
1) Low turnovers. Just five in the first half and eight for the game. The C’s average about 15.5 per game;
2) Offensive rebounds. Six in the first half doesn’t make the C’s the Grizzlies, but it helps;
3) The transition game. Fifty possessions in a half is a ton, especially for a slower-paced team like Boston. The C’s average about 92 possessions per game, or 46 per half. Only one team (Golden State) averages 50 possessions per half.
And the C’s transition game was on fire, and it was on fire because Rajon Rondo played one of the best damned stretches of basketball you’ll ever see from a point guard during the 2nd quarter. It happened between the 5:18 and 1:38 marks of that quarter, so if you taped this game, save it and re-watch that stretch. That’s 3:40 of basketball time. The Celtics scored 16 points in that 3:40. That works out to about 200 points per game.
And Rondo was directly responsible for all 16 of those points.
At the 4:30 mark, Rondo had just engineered two possessions so outrageously good that I typed in my notes (in all caps) SEQUENCE OF THE GAME. On the first of those two possessions (4:58, 2nd), Rondo rebounded a Casspi miss, took one dribble to the Sacto foul line and heaved a lead pass for Ray Allen, who was streaking down the left side of the floor with three Kings on his back as if he were Randy Moss. The ball bounced in front of Ray just to the left of the paint below the foul line on Boston’s offensive end, meaning it traveled from foul line to foul line in the air.
It also bounced just to Ray’s left, meaning Ray was between the ball and the three Sacto pursuers. Ray gathered and laid it in.
Frankly, this pass shouldn’t have worked. It is an insane pass.
On the next Sacto possession (4:30, 2nd), Sean May faces up on the left wing and starts a dribble drive. Rondo suddenly lunges away from his man (Beno Udrih, standing behind the three-point arc on May’s side) and strips May. Rondo sprint-dribbles down the right side and gets by the retreating Udrih, forcing the only other King back on defense (Andres Nocioni, doing nothing helpful all game) to come out of the paint and help on Rondo. Rajon flings a pass along the baseline to Finley, who is stationed in the left corner for an open three. A Sacto defender closes out, so Finley swings the ball to Ray, who is trailing the play near the top of the arc. Ray nails a three.
Rondo gets no assist on this play, but it’s all him.
That was the sequence of the game, I thought at the time. Only Rajon just kept making plays. He stole the ball from Nocioni at midcourt and went in for an uncontested lay-in (2:57, 2nd). He found Ray for another three, then got the ball in transition and froze Sean May so badly with a fake lefty behind-the-back pass that I thought May was going to fall over. Rondo kept the ball and laid it in.
By the time the 3:40 was up, Rajon had scored 4 points, dished 4 assists (leading to baskets worth 9 points) and notched the hockey assist on the Rondo-Finley-Allen three-pointer.
You cannot play point guard better than Rajon played it for that 3:40. And the fun thing is, there isn’t a point guard in the league who could have dominated that 3:40 the same way Rajon did. A few other point guards could have dominated it to the same degree, but no one could have done so with the same mix of rebounding, steals and transition offense that Rajon displayed.
• Marquis Daniels, we’re told, would have been a DNP-CD tonight had the game been close. As it is, Doc didn’t send Marquis in until the 3:09 mark of the 3rd quarter. Is it really possible for Daniels to play his way out of the post-season rotation? Or is Doc just sending a late-March message to the player on whom the C’s used their biannual salary cap exception, meaning they can’t use it again next season?
• Nate Robinson twisted his left ankle on a lay-up attempt and did not return. Let’s hope it’s nothing major, obviously.
• KG’s 12 boards tonight are one off his season high. Another good sign.He also converted an alley-oop and got into post position quickly in transition offense. That’s always a good sign.
• On the downside, Carl Landry destroyed anyone Boston put on him. He beat KG off the dribble easily from all over the court, especially the left block. 30 points on just 16 shot attempts for Landry, who continues to be on may All-NBA Personal Favorites team.
• Mike Gorman twice referred to Dominic McGuire as “Garcia” (i.e. Francisco Garcia) in the 1st quarter, and I can’t say I blame him too much. I expected Garcia to start, and it took me a few minutes to realize McGuire was on the court instead.
• Nobody throws more ill-advised home run passes than the Kings. The C’s picked off two in the 1st quarter.
• The Kings were lost offensively tonight without Tyreke Evans. The C’s didn’t have to play much team defense during the 1st half. Sacto didn’t run many screen/rolls or many of what you might call “effective NBA basketball plays,” choosing instead to isolate match-ups they considered favorable.
Sometimes it worked. Donte Green took Ray Allen to the rim twice. Landry burned everyone. But it’s hard to sustain offense like that, and and the Kings couldn’t.
• It’s also hard to sustain any offense when you have no three-point game, and the Kings didn’t. The C’s held Sacto to 1-of-12 from deep. There have been 68 games this season in which a team has hit 0 or 1 three-pointers, according to Basketball Reference. If these sorts of games were equally distributed around the league, we’d expect each of the 30 teams to be responsible (as a defense) for two of these clank-fests.
But things are not equally distributed. Boston’s defense is responsible for 8 of those 68 games (12 percent), and, when you think about it, that’s pretty crazy. The next defenses in line: Houston, New Jersey (!) and Indiana, who have each pulled this off five times.
• This represents either the evolution or devolution of NBA basketball: The Kings in the 2nd quarter played a line-up of Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson, Andres Nocioni, Francisco Garcia and Donte Greene. That line-up lacks both a traditional point guard and a traditional center, and yet, given some experience, it feels like it could be pretty scary, right? Thompson played a little point forward during a brief stretch.
• 60 points on 22-of-48 shooting for the Big Three. Remember them?
That’s it for tonight. More tomorrow. Enjoy this one, because the next four are tough.