Post-game Reactions

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?

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Zach Lowe

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  • Berkcelt

    I say…Bombs away!

    If he can get to the hoop more great, but Lebron is bigger and quicker so it’s hard for him to do a lot of ballhandling without a pick and even then Cleveland clogs it up pretty good. And even THEN he can’t seem to get too many calls when he does seem to beat the defense. Barring a really cold shooting spell, if he’s open he should shoot it.

  • rav

    You know 1 thing I want to see? Nate Robinson in the game when we have a double-digit lead to begin a quarter (esp. the 4th). If we give him a free rein, he can solve our problem (offensive stagnancy), and greatly increase the lead, putting the game out of reach

  • @rav: He is also just as likely to make horrible defensive mistakes and leave Mo williams open for a momentum-changing 3. I’m personally OK with Nate where he is, though I understand why people want him in there.

  • Jay P

    I have no problem with Paul’s 3-pt shooting.

    “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.”

    This line says it perfectly. Paul doesn’t take bad 3s, he takes open, great looks, and he hits them at a very good rate.

    I don’t see any problem there.

  • JP

    I think Pierce needs to conserve himself for the defenseive end. The way Rondo and Ray are playing/shooting right now, having Peirce be his regular offensive self isn’t as important as it might be otherwise. Take the open 3’s and drive early in the game to try to get LeBron/Varejao/Other Cavs into foul trouble. Peirce sort of looks like he’s in a funk right now anyway, so maybe trying to get him more offense isn’t necessarily the best if he is not going to convert.

  • Ross in Maine

    My man, Pierce is so versatile, he really makes opponents defense to pay attention to him. He is a talented 3 shooter, with ice water in his veins and with great shot selection ability. Oh, and he is the leagues 3 point shoot out champ! If anything, I’ve been wanting Paul to take more threes. I know he has a deadly mid-range game, but if I were coach I’d be saying to him “when the offense stalls, drive to the rim, but otherwise, stay out on the perimeter to spread the floor.”

  • Perry

    I’m with you on Pierce having carte blanche when it comes to shooting 3’s just as long as they come within the flow.

    With Rondo attacking, penetrating and kicking out to the right screener or the right cutter, Pierce or Ray can reap the benefit off that swing.
    Sometimes they get into bad habits running too many isolations, or they put him in spot-up situations. That makes the ball stick. Cleveland has answers for those types of offensive sets.

    I said many times over that in order for us to compete for the title Pierce and Kevin would have to play at the highest level possible. But now I’m not so sure. As long as they’re steady and the team remains defensive minded, Rondo has proved he can now knock down shots and more importantly free throws at an 80% clip. So when teams sag off him they now pay the price. His game is making it easier for the Big 3 to find their offense, instead of dialing up offense on demand. Those isolations and spot up situations are less evident when Rondo veers the offensive sets away from the ‘one pass shot’ concept.

    I was reading an interesting piece by Kirk Minihane at WEEI.co. He pointed out the singular attribute of each member the Big 3, which I’ve always professed to. But what I haven’t been able to come to grips with is this team as a whole now belongs to Rondo. I think it’s time to admit the torch is being passed right before our eyes, and at the most crucial moment of the season.

    Even if the MVP’s elbow is minted in gold by Friday it won’t change the fact the Rondo will be the most dominate player on the floor in this series.

    There I said it.

    My reasoning?

    What Caviler is capable of stopping him from getting to where he wants or to whom he decides where the ball should go?

    Conversely we know this brand of Celtics have had success loading up this very effective strong side, firewall. These defensive schemes have kept him on the perimeter or forced the ball out of his hands to the screener.

    I’ll take my chances with this core of Cavs shooting spot up jumpers in the half court. In fact, I fear the Cavilers of two years ago more.

  • Ben

    Looking at the graph, he makes 1.182 points per shot at the rim, 0.78 points per shot inside the arc away from the rim, and 1.248 points per shot outside the arc. Where do you want your shot attempts to come from in that setup?

    I’m just sayin’.

  • Ben: Good stuff. I generally agree.

  • Jason

    My answer is “Not if he’s making them.”

    But seriously, I agree that he’s taking 3s given to him, not forcing them. So how can you complain?

    Still, I love the old Pierce who used to routinely get to the line 10 times a game. I don’t really think that player is totally gone. If it were him and four scrubs again, he’d be doing that heavy lifting. So, it is a little frustrating that he doesn’t put on the cape a little more frequently because we all know he has it in his game still. Maybe we’ll get at least one vintage Pierce performance this series. Hopefully a closing game that puts a nice ending stamp on the MVP’s latest unfulfilled season.

  • zeus

    On a different note; wasnt it the Celtics who were derided for being old and injury prone 🙂 fingers crossed

  • zeus

    btw what does back spasms mean for Varajaos effectivenes? is it something which cures with 3-4 days rest.. or does someone need extended rest for it?

  • Yatrix

    Well, now that we’re going back home, Pierce can get the calls he wasn’t getting in Cleveland. He should have went to the line more, but why drive to the hoop and take all that contact when all you’re getting is a lay-up attempt while being pawed?

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    normally i hate settling for Js. but no way pierce can break down lebron. his role in this series is to stretch the floor to keep james away form the hoop, nd play defence. full faith in rayray to pick up the slack.

    no nate needed. no quis needed.

  • DRJ1

    What the graph and analysis do not show is the number of times Paul loses possessions when he’s driving vs. when he pulls up for a 3. Paul’s BIGGEST problem right now, by far, is his ball-handling, which hasn’t been great for 2 years now, but has now become terrible. Whenever he has the ball and starts to dribble, I fear he’s going to lose the ball… and it happens OFTEN.

    If you plugged in those numbers, the decision would be a no-brainer. Just shoot, Paul. Don’t dribble, don’t be a hero…. just shoot. And quit handing the ball over to the other side.

  • Dan

    @Koolaid: A very good point. When Paul and Ray make their 3’s and keep the Cavs D honest, good things happen for Rondo in the lane.

  • Paul isn’t known for a bad shot selection. He takes quality shots most of the time. I’d like to see him establish some high post iso’s and even run some pick and role with kg or sheed. Paul is most effective when he gets the ball in his spots and works off the dribble either driving for layups or fouls….and creating space for fade away j’s. We need to get more free points. So too me driving into the paint is necessary. Besides Jamison will foul Andy will foul shaq and hickson will foul. Getting past bronbron is the hardest part. He isn’t the young pierce from 08 but we need his scoring just the same if not more. A few 30+ point games should get us past the cav’s. We are only going as far as Paul can carry us.

  • lio

    as much as i appreciate paul’s game, i had to admit that he is taking a lil too much 3’s. i’d rather have him go to the hoop more often. this is where he is dangerous and put opponents in trouble. thats a no brainer. we need that from him every game. i think if he can do that every game in the playoffs, our chances of getting the 18th banner will be great…

  • Ray Leighton

    Koolaid is right — I think that Paul’s threes are flowing naturally from the Celtics gameplan right now. And as everyone has noted, Paul is not taking bad threes.

    With Rondo’s penetration and the fact that KG has been far more dominant inside too, we don’t need to clog up the lane. And if Paul is hitting out beyond the arc, then it just makes it easier for Ray to get open, and vice versa — the Cavs’ perimeter defense is already having a hard time tracking down Ray, an extra outside threat murders them.