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?
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.