Post-game Reactions

If the C’s are going to do any serious damage in the playoffs, they are going to have to find ways to score when opponents defend Rondo with a bigger player (i.e. not their point guard) and have that defender play several feet off of Rajon, daring him to shoot. A bunch of teams (including the Lakers with Kobe Bryant and the Knicks with Jared Jeffries) have tried this, and it has rattled the C’s at times.

The Heat tried it for much of the 4th quarter on Sunday. They stuck Dwyane Wade, one of the game’s great rovers, on Rondo and shifted Mario Chalmers onto Ray on nine half-court possessions over the final 8:45 of the game. Did it work?

Unfortunately, yes, and I’ll do the play-by-play below for the die-hards. The quick and dirty conclusions:

1) Pessimism: The C’s scored 8 points on these 9 possessions, a scoring rate worse than that of the league’s worst offense.

2) Optimism: The Celtics have the tools to combat this defense. If you read the play-by-play after the jump, you’ll see that Boston produced several clean looks and were inches away from producing several others. How? By being creative, forcing switches and punishing the Heat for Wade’s roving. This means using Rondo as a screener; starting possessions in unusual sets; and using creative off-the-ball movement.

3) This is the sort of thing we got Nate Robinson for, isn’t it? I have nothing to add to this one.

4) One play the C’s didn’t use against this defense: Having Rondo put his head down and go. We’ve seen it before; will we see it in Game 5?

The play-by-play:

Possession #1: 8:45–Wade guards Rondo coming out of a timeout and plays well off of him. Rondo responds by turning into a screener; he sets a screen for KG at the left elbow, and the pick nails KG’s guy (Haslem), freeing KG for a possible open jumper. Wade realizes Haslem is in trouble and switches onto KG. Haslem takes Rondo, who moves to the left wing, behind the three-point arc.

The C’s have want they want here—a bunch of mismatches. They fail to take advantage, though. KG tosses to Pierce and the two run a screen/roll, which allows Wade to switch onto Pierce. The Heat trap Pierce, and the captain throws an errant pass which the Heat intercept. Zero points, but I love when the C’s respond to this sort of defense by turning Rajon into a screener.

Possession #2 (8:10)–Wade guards Rondo on the left elbow, where Rajon handles the ball. Wade concedes the jumper (duh). Rondo instead passes to Ray Allen, who is curling around a screen at the top of the three-point arc. Wade leaves Rondo and jumps out on Ray, preventing a Ray jumper.

Rondo does what he should do in this situation: He cuts right down the middle of the paint, raising his arms to try and get Ray’s attention. But Miami is ready. Dorell Wright shifts away from Pierce, leaving the captain open in the left corner, and Joel Anthony sags down off of Perkins. Ray has no clear passing lane to Rajon. Wade recovers.

The C’s eventually swing the ball to Pierce in the corner. Pierce misses a wide-open three. Zero points, but the C’s got an open look in part because of the attention Miami’s other defenders had to pay to Rondo as Wade roved around.

Possession #3 (6:55)—Wade guards Rondo on the right elbow and the C’s again put the ball in someone else’s hands. Pierce holds it on the left wing as Rondo stands around on the right wing behind the three-point line. Pierce runs a screen/roll with KG and gets into the lane. Wade responds by moving toward the paint, and Pierce kicks to Rondo in the right corner.

This is where Rondo’s lack of a consistent jumper hurts. Tony Parker launches a corner three here. Rajon doesn’t have that shot, so he dribbles out to the perimeter, perhaps hoping to make an entry pass to Perk on the right block. But Wade has no respect for Rajon’s J, so he basically doubles Perkins, cutting off the passing lane.

Rondo gives up and dishes the ball to Pierce in the right corner. Pierce eventually finds KG at the foul line, and Garnett makes a tough 12-foot fadeaway over Haslem. Two points, but this is the worst of the three possessions so far—the C’s look disorganized.

Possession #4 (6:02): Rajon walks the ball up after a Miami basket (a Wade three, obviously), and Wade just chills out at the foul line, paying Rondo no respect. The C’s use one of their favorite sets—and a good one for countering this anti-Rondo D: They station Pierce at the left elbow and Perk at the right elbow with defenders on their backs.

A lot of NBA teams, including Boston, start plays from this double high post set, but they usually use two big guys in the high post positions. Pierce’s inclusion here is notable.

Rondo bounces a pass to Pierce and jogs over to the right side, away from the action. But Wade stays put near the foul line. Pierce and Perk run a screen roll, and Perk hammers Wright with the screen. Pierce should be wide open, but Wade, having left Rondo, is right there to cut him off at the top of the key.

Rondo again does the exact right thing: He flashes underneath the rim and raises his arms, calling for the ball. Pierce sees him and rifles a two-handed jump pass to Rondo. Joel Anthony barely gets a finger tip on it, deflects the pass and saves the ball as he dives out of bounds.

Then a bunch of crazy stuff happens and Ray Allen misses a three-pointer. Zero points, but this is a Joel Anthony finger tip away from being a wonderful possession for Boston.

Possession #5 (5:35): The C’s appear to design a play for Rondo to shoot a jumper, as Paul Pierce gives Rondo a dribble hand-off/screen that Rondo curls around at the top of the arc. Wade gives Rajon zero respect; he goes under the screen and leaves Rajon a wide open for a 17-footer. Rondo hesitates. This is death. He turns down the J and kicks the ball to KG on the right side.

KG pumps and drives on Haslem, but Wade is in the paint, waiting, so KG kicks to Ray on the perimeter. Ray drives by Chalmers, who rushed to close out, but Wade dives into the paint to cut off Ray’s drive.

Sensing a theme?

Ray kicks to Rondo, who is uncovered behind the three-point line on the left wing. Rondo shoots. Miami is thrilled.

It goes in. Three points, but this is the exact sort of possession Miami likely envisioned when they shifted Wade onto Rondo—Wade runs around and stymies every other Celtic, and Rondo shoots an open three.

Possession #6 (5:10): Rondo brings the ball up the right wing after  a Wade free throw. Wade ignores him and doubles Perk on the right block. Rondo swings the ball, and it ends up in Pierce’s hands on the left side of the floor.

Now something happens that I adore. Rondo cuts over, sets a screen for Pierce and then slips the screen and darts down the left side of the paint. He’s open for a split second for what would be an easy lay-in, but Pierce has some space and decides to take a J from his sweet spot at the right elbow. It misses. Zero points, but I love the action.

Possession #7 (4:30): Wade is everywhere again. He leaves Rondo as Rajon tosses a pass to Ray Allen, who is curling around a screen for a possible jumper. Wade disrupts it. Ray passes to Perkins on the baseline. Perk wants to pass to KG flashing in the paint, but Wade is lurking.

Perk skips the ball to Rajon, who is wide open for three. He misses. Zero points. A dream Heat possession.

Possession #8 (3:30): The C’s run the double high post again, and again with Pierce manning the left elbow. Rondo again passes to Pierce and cuts to the right corner, away from the play. Wade does not follow him.

KG and Pierce run a screen/roll at the top of the arc; Wright and KG’s guy (Haslem) trap Pierce, forcing Wade to guard KG in the post.

This is good stuff for Boston. They have punished the Heat for Wade’s roving by forcing them into a bad situation. The C’s get the ball to KG with Wade on his back, the Heat double, and KG dishes out to Finley on the perimeter. Wright manages to deflect the pass out of bounds.

The C’s run the exact same action off the inbounds, and KG again ends up in the post with Wade on his back. KG gets the pass to Finley, who knocks down the three. Three points, and a solid example of how the C’s can beat this defense with creativity and movement all over the floor.

Possession #9 (2:30): This is perhaps the key possession of the game. Rondo hangs out at the three-point line on the right side while Wade doubles KG on the right block. KG runs out to set a screen for Pierce, who is at the top of the key waiting for Ray Allen to pass him the ball. In theory, this forces Wade to make a decision: Run up to disrupt the Pierce/KG screen/roll or stick within shouting distance of Rajon.

But Ray Allen catches his guy (Chalmers) napping and drives to the hoop instead of passing to Pierce at the top for the screen/roll. Wade collapse onto Ray, who kicks the ball to Rajon on the right wing.

Rondo drives in and misses a lay-up. There is literally nobody guarding him, though Wade might have spooked him by faking as if were going to jump for the shot block only to remain stationary under the rim.

Zero points, but the C’s couldn’t have gotten a better look.

See what I mean? That 8 points in 9 possessions could have been, say, 11 points in 9 possessions, and you’re in business. The tools are there. Watch how the C’s use them if the Heat shift Wade onto Rajon during Game 5.

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Zach Lowe

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  • Jay P

    Rondo is hitting shot now, he definitely has the ability. The only thing missing for him is the mental edge of a shooter.

    He’s just afraid to shoot, but I really feel when teams duck under that screen at 17ft, Rondo needs to take that shot. He can hit it, he just needs to believe he can.

  • hallik

    Agree w/ Jay P, Rondo can hit that shot! He just needs to believe that he can. However, Rondo is such a team first guy that at times he is waiting for ‘others’ to get them involved that shooting come as a ‘might as well’ response as to ‘my team needs me to do this, i can hit this’ response…if that makes any sense. Either way Rondo i feel confident that Rondo will pull the trigger when need be! GO CELTS!!

  • hallik

    i just wrote that like a 2 year old…sorry…@ work trying to hide celticshub website…LOL

  • nice breakdown

  • Nate Teh Great

    I’m sorry, but am I missing something?

    I repeatedly come across what appear to be snide comments regarding Nate Robinson on your blog.

    Is it his fault that Doc Rivers won’t play him?

    Nate is a gunner. That’s what he was and always will be. Celtics management knew that when they got him, so why he’s been banned from the rotation is a mystery to me.

    This is a fact: When Nate was a Knick, opposing teams designed their defensive game plans for him. Not anyone else on that sorry-ass squad.

    Watching the C’s go through long scoring droughts with him playing cheerleader on the bench drives me mad.

    And please don’t quote any silly “advanced” statistics too me. Let me tell you the only stats that matter. When I look at box scores after games, the only numbers that are relevant are bench scoring, free throw percentage and field goal percentage (not necessarily in that order).

    Don’t believe me? Take a look at any Celt’s loss this year and I guarantee that the bench was outscored.

    And while some may consider it a pithy truism, virtually all big games (between teams that are somewhat evenly matched) are lost at the foul line.

  • @Nate Teh Great:

    Yes, it IS his fault. It’s his fault that he sucks as a team player. It’s his fault that he couldn’t even work in D’Antoni’s system. It’s his fault that he never actually learned how to play basketball, it’s his fault that all he cares about is making highlight reel plays.

    Nate sucks. He’s only capable of looking good when he’s on a terrible team and he’s free to do whatever he wants. He has no business being on a playoff team, and I’m still pissed off that we gave up Eddie House to get him.

  • Dan

    Did you only tune into the C’s for the playoffs? They gave Nate plenty of run after the trade and the only shot he would make, let alone even take, was a pull-up transition 3.

    There have been plenty of good posts on this blog about his his FG% at the rim has plummeted in Boston, and he definitely hasn’t been creating for anyone else. This is to say nothing about the huge defensive liability he is.

    I’m not trying to bash Nate, for all I know he just hasn’t fit into the system here and still has the mentality he had when he was playing pick-up ball, i.e. for the Knicks. But it’s hard to conclude the trade was anything but a failure – at least House could spread the floor in late game situations.

  • Nate Teh Great

    Obviously, (aside from the games against Boston) neither of you saw any Knick games over the past three seasons.

    Nate wasn’t benched in NY for lack of ability. There were personality issues, and Dantoni is a vindictive son of a bitch.

    I have no idea what you’re looking at when you watch Nate play, but I see a player looking over his shoulder every time he shoots the ball. The truth is, Doc never trusted him (and that being the case, the C’s shouldn’t have traded for him).

    My basic point remains the same. Nate Robinson is a gunner, a volume shooter. And given free rein, he would have helped this team.

    Do you really believe a player who drove to the basket with wild abandon on another team suddenly decided that it was no longer a part of his game? Doesn’t it occur to you that he was told that he needed to fit into a system?

    Hell, Doc’s quote about Nate was “he’s got to learn that we play inside out”. Which is kind of humorous considering his bench post presence is Glen Davis. Mister “I get my shot blocked at an alarming rate” himself.

    I was a big proponent of this trade before it happened. I never thought that Nate was ever going to be a traditional point guard, but he can put points on the board in a hurry. And honestly, if you think Eddie House is as dynamic a player as Nate, you’re sadly mistaken.

    As for his defensive lapses, I can’t argue that point. In his (slight) defense he came from a team where defense was not a priority. However, I believed that his defensive shortcomings would be overshadowed by what he could bring to the offense.

    Listen, I would love for the C’s to make it back to the championship round this year, but mark my words, when they lose to the Cavs (and with this current rotation they will), lack of bench scoring will be the main culprit.

    While the starters are pretty evenly matched (Nobody can guard LBJ, but PP can make LeBron work on the defensive end), the benches are a different story.

    They going to need Nate’s scoring off the bench.

  • Jason

    EVERY time Nate played the Cs he cut right through the perimeter and caused havoc attacking the rim over and over.

    On the Cs, he’s done nothing but jack up jumpers (and not hit them). And when I say nothing, I mean he’s nothing as in, not playing D, not passing, nothing. All he’s done is take and miss a whole bunch of low percentage shots.

    All of us Cs fans are bummed about it. We all raved about the pickup, thought Nate was going to contribute greatly, be electric, rest Rondo, break down the D and either attack the rim or get someone else a good shot. He’s done NONE of that and played no D to boot.

    That’s why he’s benched.

    However, (and Doc’s already been saying that Nate’s in his back pocket if/when necessary) Nate definitively still has the chance, say against the Cavs, to take on some 2nd unit minutes, abuse Delonte and contribute. Will he fulfill our wishes? We’ll see.

  • Dan

    They probably will lose to the Cavs but whether they do or don’t the difference maker’s not going to be Nate.

    Who’s minutes do you propose he takes? At the 1 Rondo can play a whole game during the playoffs with their slower pace. And when he’s out Doc follows the numbers and has Ray or Pierce in with the second team.

    TA’s been phenomenal and putting Nate at the 2 is too huge a hole on defense anyways. Could you imagine the look in Wade’s eyes when he sees he has Nate Robinson guarding him. And for all his flaws you point out, Davis has been huge in this series. But that’s irrelevant anyways because him and Nate aren’t competing for minutes.