My favorite detail from John Hollinger’s breakdown of Game 1 is this:
The Celtics particularly cut off the corner 3-pointer, the highest-value shot in the game, limiting Orlando to five attempts and no makes from the corners.
“We have to make them,” said Carter. “They are few and far between. They did a great job of challenging the 3-point shots and staying home on our shooters. So when they’re there, they’re there. We just can’t force them.”
Ah, the corner three, the shot that has prolonged the careers of so many three-and-D guys who had no other dimension to their offensive games. The Magic—whose shooters do have plenty of other dimensions to their games, by the way—love the corner three.
How much? Check out their NBA.com hot spot chart:
Those red patches look nice if you’re a Magic fan, don’t they? Add it up, and the Magic this season attempted about 7.8 corner threes per game and hit 41.5 percent of them. That is a huge, huge weapon.
And the corner three is the classic shot that emerges when a good screen/roll team runs a screen/roll in which the screener rolls down the middle of the court. You’ve seen this action a hundred times: Vince Carter (or Jameer Nelson) runs a high screen/roll with Dwight Howard. Carter’s man goes over the screen, Howard’s defender shifts over to help on Carter until Carter’s guy can catch up, and Howard rolls to the hoop. Without some help from a wing defender, Howard has a dunk or a lay-up. That wing defender is usually guarding a guy spotting up in the corner.
The Magic will get looks from the corner. There is nothing Boston can do to stop that. The Celtics have to do a bunch of things to make those corner threes difficult:
1) Make the pass from the ball-handler to the corner shooter difficult. If Nelson/Carter can skip the pass all the way to the guy in the corner, the wing defender will have a much harder time closing out. This comes down to the players positioning themselves correctly and having what the Jay Bilas types call active hands and arms. Deflections in this situation are gold. But just forcing Orlando to use one extra pass around the perimeter gives the wing defender a smidgen more time to run back from Howard to his man in the corner.
2) Balls out effort, all the time. A lot of defense is about effort and hunger, and it’s clear the Celtics have the requisite hunger right now. If you watched Paul Pierce dart down on Howard and dart back to Mickael Pietrus in the corner Sunday, you saw that.
3) Quick rotations, smart decisions. If the guy helping from the corner has to commit more aggressively to Howard than usual, the other perimeter defender on that side of the court must be ready to make a choice: Stick with his guy on the wing behind the three-point arc or help on the guy in the corner if the ball goes that way.
A lot goes into to this decision. Who’s in the corner? Who am I guarding? If I leave my guy, is there anyone else in position to at least run at him in the event that the Magic swing the ball back to my guy? And how much time is left on the shot clock?
The Celtics, when they’re on, do this stuff better than any team in the league, with the possible exception of the team they are playing right now. They will need to do it well consistently in this series to win.