Paul Pierce has taken 27 shots in two games against the Cavaliers; 11 of those shots have been three-pointers.
In five games against Miami, 27 of Pierce’s 70 field-goal attempts were three-pointers.
Add it up, and about 39.2 percent of Pierce’s total field-goal attempts in the playoffs have been from three-point range. That is an unusually high percentage for Pierce. For his career, about 27 percent of Pierce’s shots have come from deep. That number jumped a bit this season, when 263 of Pierce’s 867 shot attempts (30.3 percent) came from three-point range.
In short: So far in the playoffs, Pierce has migrated out behind the three-point line more often.
Is this a problem?
The hoops traditionalist says it is and implores Pierce to attack the basket.
But I’m not convinced that’s right—at least not in this series. Pierce hit 41 percent of his threes this season, the best mark of his career. And he did it during a season in which his mid-range shooting percentages suffered big-time dips. All things considered, you’d rather have someone taking a three-pointer that has a 41 percent chance of going instead of a 15-footer that has a 38 percent* chance of going in, right?
Throw this into the mix: Pierce is facing one of the league’s best defenders (LeBron) and a team that allowed one of the lowest at-the-rim shooting percentages in the league this season, according to Hoopdata. Taking the open three instead of pump-faking and driving into the teeth of Cleveland’s D might be the wise play.
Note: I didn’t make up that 38 percent number. That was Pierce’s shooting percentage this season on shots from between 10 and 23 feet, according to Hoopdata. You could argue that his health problems caused the poor shooting, and that since Pierce is healthy now, we should expect his mid-range percentages to jump back to their career norms.
On the other hand, over-reliance on the three-pointer means attempting fewer foul shots. Of Boston’s starters, only Pierce (and, more recently, Rajon Rondo) get to the foul line regularly. If Pierce isn’t attacking the hoop, the C’s offense as a whole is not going to get as many free points.
So far in the post-season, Pierce is attempting about 4.9 free throws per 36 minutes. That’s down from 6.5 FTAs per 36 minutes in the regular season. Against the Cavs, Pierce has attempted just 6 foul shots in two games.
This doesn’t completely explain why the Cavs have attempted 30 more foul shots than Boston in Games 1 and 2 combined, but it helps—and it should help put to rest the notion that the referees and the league are engaged in a dark conspiracy to get LeBron into the Finals.
There’s also this: Pierce’s three-point shooting slowed down considerably over the last half of the season. In his final 30 games, Pierce shot just 33-of-100 (33 percent) from long range. That is some serious regression to the mean; Pierce’s three-point percentage was up to nearly 47 percent around Jan. 1 before settling about where it belongs—around 40 percent.
I don’t know what the answer is. I do know I’m very comfortable with Pierce taking open threes, especially from the top of the arc, which is clearly his sweet spot. Here’s his NBA.com Hot Spots chart for this season:
And I can’t recall off the top of my head a Pierce three this post-season I considered a bad shot as he attempted it. He’s hit 37 percent of his playoff threes, which is a tad above league average and not far from being really good.
That said, I’ll bet we see Pierce attack the rim more as the series goes back to Boston and he tries to re-establish himself as a threat at the basket.
What do you guys think?