Two weeks ago, I called this piece the single most disturbing thing I had read about the 2010 Celtics. The upshot of Tom Haberstroh’s piece for ESPN.com (Insider): The Celtics, who made a higher percentage of their shots at the rim this season than every team but Cleveland, struggled to make those same sorts of shots against the league’s best defensive teams.
This would be a problem, since Boston (like most teams) takes more shots at the rim than from any other place on the court. Overall, the 2010 Celtics hit 64.4 percent of about 26 attempts at the rim per game.
But in four regular-season games against the Cavs, the C’s shot just 55.4 percent on shots at the rim, Haberstroh reported. To put that in perspective: The Bucks, the league’s most brick-tastic team on close shots, managed to convert 56.3 percent of their at-the-rim looks, and the league as a whole hit about 61 percent.
More bad news: The C’s were even worse at the rim against Dwight Howard and the Magic. In four games against Orlando, the C’s hit a pathetic 48.5 percent of their attempts at the rim. In particular, Haberstroh found that Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo struggled to finish at the rim against elite defenses.
This seemed to be a huge, huge problem, considering Boston would have to get through Cleveland and Orlando if they wanted to win the title.
So what happened?
The whole flipping the switch thing apparently applies to finishing ability as well.
Against the Cavs, the C’s shot 93-of-155 (60 percent) on shots at the rim, according to Hoopdata box scores.
That’s not great; it’s a tad below league average. But you’ll take league average against the very best defensive teams, and Cleveland’s defense was one of the best in the league at protecting the rim this season; Cleveland’s opponents hit just 58.3 percent of their close shots, the 6th-lowest mark in the league, according to Hoopdata.
Also of note: Those 155 attempts work out to about 25.8 per game, right at the C’s average for the season. So they did not hold back in the face of solid interior defense
How’d they do that with Paul Pierce struggling all series?
1) KG attacked the rim like he hasn’t since he was in Minnesota. KG shot 18-of-27 at the rim (67 percent) for the series, a mark well above the league average for power forwards (62.3 percent). Garnett got up 4.5 shots at the rim per game, more than he’s averaged in a season since 2007, the earliest year in Hoopdata’s database.
In other news: Antawn Jamison will earn nearly $30 million over the next two seasons. Enjoy, Cleveland!
2) Rajon Rondo was a rim-attacking machine. Rondo hit 21-of-36 (58.3 percent) of his shots at the rim. That’s well below his season average (64.2 percent, one of the best marks in the league for point guards), but it’s still above the league average for point guards.
Even more important: Rajon attempted six shots per game at the rim. He was attacking, undeterred by Shaq’s girth or LeBron’s knack for coming from the weak side or from behind to swat shots.
Rondo attempted 5.4 shots at the rim per game in the regular season, so he put his head down just a bit more against the Cavs. His shooting percentage fell, but the C’s badly needed Rondo establish himself as a threat in the paint, and he did.
And against the Magic? He’s right back at it, Howard be damned. And so are the Celtics.
After two games, Boston is 30-of-50 on shots at the rim. That’s 60 percent, again. Just a hair below the league average, again.
And once again, a league average at-the-rim performance is a huge victory for Boston in this series. Remember, Boston hit just 48.5 percent of shots at the rim against the Magic in the regular season. Overall, Orlando held opponents to 57.4 percent shooting on close shots, the 2nd-lowest mark in the league.
Last thing: You probably want to know how Boston has been doing defensively at the rim, since Cleveland (66.2 percent) and Orlando (62.8 percent) ranked 1st and 9th, respectively, in offensive shooting percentage on close shots this season.
Against Boston, Cleveland hit 94-of-154 (61 percent) at the rim. That’s league average, and way down from Cleveland’s season-long mark. Advantage, Boston.
In two games against Boston, Orlando has hit 24-of-48 (50 percent) at the rim. Huge, huge advantage: Boston.
So the team that routinely lost the at-the-rim battle against elite teams in the regular season is suddenly winning it or at least playing it to a draw. And that team, defying all predictions, is two wins from the Finals.