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The At-The-Rim Turnaround

 

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.

  • Jason

    I’m surprised a little by these numbers in the first two games against Orlando. It’s probably selective memory, but I remember some weak floaters by Rondo (clearly affected by Dwight’s “presence”) and some missed TA layups (what’s new?). So, 60% we’ll take it.

    As for the defensive end, in the first game Howard tossed the ball at the rim haphazardly and they pretty much all missed. In game 2, he basically did the same thing, but a lot of them rattled in. Considering he usually gets half his buckets on dunks (100% shooting percentage), having the team as a whole at 50% is damn good.

  • Jay P

    That Orlando % is almost exclusively due to Dwight Howard. Nelson and Cater obviusly have a few, but how often did we really see them driving into the teeth of Boston’s interior D?

    Rarely is the answer, and no one else on that team does much, or any of it, their all shooters. Lewis doesn’t post up, Barnes, Reddick aren’t slashers, and Gortat loves that mid-range.

    It’s just a testament to how good of a job their doing on Dwight Howard, as all his shots come from that range.

  • dslack

    60% is not much different from 57.4%, on 50 shots. 60% is 30 makes out of 50. 57.4% is 28.7 makes out of 50, which rounds to 29. So the Celtics have made one more basket than you would have expected. Could be luck as much as anything.

  • zeus

    good stuff… thanks guys

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @dslack: But it’s tough to win any game when you hit less than half your shots at the rim and allow teams to hit 65 percent of theirs, which is what was happening in a lot of these games (at least against ORL).

  • dslack

    @Zach Oh absolutely. By the way, something I was taking for granted but should have said is that this is another in a long line of excellent, insightful posts. I was just saying that the Celtics aren’t shooting meaningfully better at the rim than the Magic’s regular season opponents did.

  • zeus

    @ dslack : dont think u got the point
    a) this is the playoffs ; granted its a small sample but we dont NEED this to be a long term trend ; we just want it to keep on this way for six or so games more ;
    b) the evidence is not only over the 2 orlando games but also over the cavs series
    c) this was supposed to be an area where we get killed ; so even keeping it close might be a good deal for us

  • Ira

    Zach, where do you find all this minutia? I love reading about these points almost as much as about thirsty plants! Seriously, while I respect Orlando and didn’t “dis” Cavs, You can just see something in the C’s resolve. They aren’t yapping, just cutting these teams like a skilled surgeon.

  • Jay P

    @dlsack

    And how many Playoff games do you see decided by 1 or 2 baskets?

    Don’t tell me they don’t make a difference.

  • dslack

    Jay,

    I’m not saying it doesn’t help. I’m simply saying it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Celtics are shooting better in an intrinsic sense than the Magic’s regular season opponents did. Example: You can flip a coin and get 3 heads in a row. Doesn’t mean you’re “better” at flipping heads. Just means you got lucky. Hitting one shot above the expected number (in 50 attempts) doesn’t mean that the Celtics are shooting better than the Magic’s regular season opponents in any meaningful sense.

    My analysis is that the Celtics, just like the Magic’s regular season opponents, are shooting about 29-for-50 on shots at rim. Celtics would have to hit a lot more than 1 above the expected number to make me think that there’s an intrinsic difference. It’s great that the Celtics have gotten that 1 extra lucky bounce, but unless the trend holds up over many more shots, I wouldn’t attribute that 1 extra make to anything but Poisson noise.

  • dslack

    Put differently, until more evidence rolls in, I’d think the Celtics are just as likely to shoot 28 for their next 50 (i.e., slightly below league-average-against-Magic) as to once again shoot 30 for their next 50.

  • What More Can I Say?

    Phenomenal article Zach. Seriously.

    The first thing I thought when I read this article is….the C’s are going to beat the LAKERS. The first thing I thought when I FINISHED this article is….the C’s got to get out of this series. Seriously…this makes me look at the C’s two wins in a whole other light.

  • DRJ1

    And these numbers are despite the Cs having missed quite a few bunnies under the rim… gimmes they are not likely to keep missing.

  • Chris O.

    I loved the article, also loved dslack’s comments because in many ways they are insightful and correct. Its like in baseball when they tell me a guy is lifetime 4/11 with 1 hr and 4 RBI’s against another guy…sometimes its really just a small sample size. Of course the 1 bucket extra matters, and of course the Celts may not hold up to what they have already done…the point really is that when I read that Haberstroh’s article I was shittin bricks too…now with our reinvigorated defense and our WILL to be focused and win I am not worried about anything….win or lose I know the Celtics will give it their all -unlike the regular season.

  • Chris O.

    BTW, Zach, I think you should replace John Hollinger…since he sucks, a lot of his numbers are bogus (including PER since I think USAGE is ridiculous), and I generally tend to think you are the man.

  • Ray Leighton

    @Chris O. — Hollinger’s data are good; he just seems to be ignorant with respect to interpreting his own numbers.

    One thing that I have been really puzzled by all season long is why this year’s team seemed to be particularly unlucky/bad (?) at missing easy layups. My impression, not based on hard data, was that our low % on the offensive rim were not generally a function of opposing defenses. How many times have we seen the Celtics with numbers on a fastbreak get a wide open layup and miss it? And that resulting in numbers for the other team going the other way? It just seemed to happen way too often, and I can’t think of any obvious reason why. But somehow, the Celtics have fixed this (somewhat) in the playoffs.

  • Chris O.

    Obviously his data is good, I was only half serious. Its just most of the conclusions he draws from them and most of the formulae he arrives at for his end result kind of thing are weak. He usually reads into things WAY TOO MUCH for what the numbers mean. His PER although really interesting is garbage because of USAGE. Naturally a great player on a crap team (or a team with far lesser role players) will get used more and a great player with better players around him will be used less. Basically good players cut into other good players PER. Its like the opposite affect of RBI’s on a good offensive baseball team (where Manny benefited greatly from being in great offenses like CLE and BOS RBI wise).

  • shane88888

    @dslack: While I agree this is a laughably small sample size and simple variance is very much in play, FFD has finished at the rim much better in the playoffs. (I’m having a hard time finding strict FG% numbers on Hoopdata but I’m confident that he’s finishing more efficiently in the playoffs).

    82games has FFD as a 54 eFG% shooter from inside this season. For comparison, Rondo finished inside at a 65 eFG% this season. KG was 68 eFG% from inside this season. But we already knew FFD is horrible at the rim (and especially horrible for a PF).

    This postseason, he’s really used the rim for protection and seems to be getting blocked a lot less. So there might be some actual improvement wrt “skill” (and not just variance) – which can be largely attributed to FFD going from miserable to at least average as a finisher.

  • dslack

    @shane That sounds totally reasonable. What is the FF for though?

  • shane88888

    Fat Fuck Davis.

    I’m not a fan of professional basketball players who carry an extra fifty pounds of body fat, limiting them to 80% of their potential. I’m also not a fan of players who have proven to be horribly inefficient offensive players but initiate their own offense regardless. (This may be mostly Doc’s fault.)

    He has been a pleasant surprise this postseason. Shot selection has vastly improved and he’s always willing defender. And he hasn’t cried once.

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