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A Missed Opportunity: A Look At The Last Play of Regulation

 

An opportunity. It’s all the Celtics could have hoped for. Faced with a seven point deficit, with just over two minutes remaining in regulation, a return to Orlando appeared evident for Boston.

However it was only 80 seconds later, when the Celtics had not only tied the score in regulation, thanks to some theatrics from Paul Pierce and Ray Allen respectively, they had not one but two chances to take the lead and the series. They came up empty on both counts.

So what went wrong on these possessions? A whole heck of a lot if you ask Ray Allen,

“There were a couple of plays down the stretch offensively that we botched. Plain and simple. We were rushing.” Allen continued, “It just didn’t seem that we had or were in great sync there in the fourth quarter offensively. We’re kicking ourselves because we had great opportunities still.”

Let’s start first with the final possession of the game, at the end of regulation. The C’s rebounded a missed Jameer Nelson 21 footer with 16 seconds remaining, looking to hold for one shot.

The execution opened a variety of questions about the play. Should Doc have called timeout? Was Pierce playing too much of a hero? Was everyone on the same page? We investigate all of this, after the jump

In the first twist of the sequence, Doc Rivers elected not to call timeout, looking to catch a potentially vulnerable Orlando defense, having drawn a play up for the possibility, during an earlier timeout. With a plan in place, there’s really no need to argue with Doc for not calling the timeout there. Right? Not so fast. We’ll get to that later though.

To start, let’s look at the playcall. For the vast majority of the year, I’ve been anti-Pierce isolation at the end of games. And while I still back that stance during this team’s regular season contests, there were two factors that have to come into play during those closing moments when you judge this decision:

1) Pierce had carried the team offensively for the first three quarters.

2) The playcall was not even an isolation, as Zach pointed out in his recap, it was a pick and roll call.

The play itself was very slow to develop, as Pierce was hounded by Vince Carter in the frontcourt while the clock wound down. Once The Truth made his move, looking for a pick from Ray Allen at the top of the key, a lack of spacing caused the problem for number 34 as Doc explained postgame:

“Supposed to be Paul at the top with a pick and roll with Ray, and then the floor was supposed to be flat and spaced.  When you look at it, half our team was standing next to Paul.”

The lack of execution was a game long symptom of the team’s subpar offensive play (100 offensive rating). Rivers was even shocked the team had a chance at that point:

“It was amazing how bad we were execution wise and still had a chance to win that game.  That was amazing to me.  You know, we felt if we could get a stop, tie score, take the last shot, we’re going to get great space.  And if they trap, because of our spacing, he would have somewhere to pass it to. It was impossible to do that because it was so crowded.”

So whose to blame for that lack of spacing? A closer look at the video shows Rajon Rondo was the main problem upon further investigation. He waited on the right wing at the three point arc as his man, Jameer Nelson paid literally no attention to him after he passed the ball to Pierce.

Instead, Jameer clogged the middle of the floor, deterring Pierce away from the lane, while providing a double team with J.J. Redick on The Captain.

Eventually, Paul makes a move to his right, then dribbles his ball off his leg during an attempted crossover towards the middle. A scrum for the ball ensued and we had overtime.

So ultimately, the playcall itself, I liked. The issue was a matter of personnel. The Magic obviously did not consider Rondo a legitimate threat to shoot and guessed wisely that Paul Pierce would not be willing to give up the ball to his wide open point guard in that spot.

Now, this obviously isn’t meant as a dig at Pierce. It’s his job to take care of business there and he’s not going to pass it to a questionable outside shooter if he still thinks he can get a shot.

Thus some blame has to fall on Rondo here, as Doc mentioned. Running to the other side of the floor there, at least provides Pierce with a little more room to operate. The problem is that Nelson could have still left Rondo at that point, but would have been in a much more comprising position with Rondo closer to the hoop. A wide open Rondo closer to the hoop, is a bigger threat than him at the three point arc.

As an example, notice the spacing during Pierce’s game winner against the Heat.

In that play, KG roaming around his sweet spot from 18-20 feet is a must guard for any opposing player on the right wing. Pierce got the space he needed to get off a shot and that was that.  

Rondo meanwhile was under the hoop in the left corner on that play, forcing his man to stay in the neighborhood. Is that where he should have been on this play? Obviously, it was a different playcall, but this is likely the type of spacing Doc was looking for on this play.

So, what do we make of this overall? Does Doc need to call timeout here to get another shooter in the game for Rondo, to dissuade helping on Pierce? Or did Rondo have to do a better job of giving Pierce room to operate? Or should Pierce have been looking to pass more after seeing a line of defenders in his path?

Sebastian Pruiti over at NBA Playbook looks at the same play in great detail in a must see post for C’s fans. He concludes that Pierce was the one and only goat on this play. After hearing Doc in the postgame, I would have to disagree with that assessment. Yes, Pierce made the mistake with the his dribbling, but I don’t fault him for the issues that led to the mistake. Spacing was clearly an issue that played right into Orlando’s defense.

There’s also the contention that Ray Allen was open in the corner on the 2nd pick by KG. This is true as well, however I don’t like the odds of Pierce getting the cross court pass over to Allen in that sequence.

It would have had to been a picture perfect pass that would be prone to a deflection or pickoff. So would have been nice if he did make it? Sure. I can’t fault him for not doing it though.

The truth is though while this is all up for debate, ultimately it was a golden opportunity that slipped away for this team to steal a game they probably didn’t deserve.

Onto Orlando.

  • Berkcelt

    That was gross. Worse than I thought. If the play was for Ray I guess I can see the pick, but if Paul is really shooting it all the way, clear out like the Miami play, get Rondo on the baseline. That way if they double he can see them coming.

    On Paul’s part he should have passed it to Rondo. I didn’t notice how wide open Rondo was when I saw it live. On the other hand, if he didn’t bobble it there, he probably at least would’ve gotten a shot off. Instead he carelessly mishandled it which to me has been his one real negative in this series, i.e. careless turnovers/ballhandling.

    And I still thought Doc should have called the timeout when Rondo picked it up and took an extra count to get it to Pierce. I was saying it out loud as it was happening.

  • Tom

    Paul Pierce doesn’t pass the ball when game is on the line, just trap him.

    I also love the bodycheck fatboy Nelson threw on Pierce for the loose ball.

  • foudufafa

    While the play was called between Pierce and Ray, Pierce should have recognized the situation and pass the ball to Rondo who was wide open and calling for the ball. In addition, Pierce had time to throw the pass to Ray but he continued dribbling in the opposite direction. Pierce tried to force things until no time was left. So I don’t think Rondo is to blame on this one.
    This was a terrible game by the Celtics. The whole offense was based on Pierce iso plays. It was so predictable and he hogged the ball for most of the game. Very disappointing.

  • NC

    I agree with foudufafa on this one. This last play was a microcosm of the offense the entire game. While it was necessary at times, PP dominated the ball all game and it stagnated the offense.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    You have to give orlando credit. They followed the #1 rule of defense. FIRST & FOREMOST Put pressure on the ball & stop the ball.

    In theory, Who cares if Ray is wide open in the corner or KG is wide open for a jumper or Rajon is wide open 3′ from the basket IF there is a double or triple team on the ball & you have a RELUCTANT OVER DRIBBLING passer then none of that matters. I liked Paul taking the final shot in the heat game b/c Paul had been in the zone hitting shots, Wade was out of the game with a cramp, AND Paul did not look tired. BUT the rest of the entire season Paul wanting to do it all himself vs two or more guys from the other team HAS NOT WORKED.

    There was a perfect play when Paul WILLINGLY passed to KG for the game winner at the knicks. Paul had a great play when he passed it to Glen last season for the game winner at Orlando. When Paul passes out of the double EARLY enough for his teammate to get a shot something good can happen.

    However, History shows Paul time & again unwilling to pass & coming up short on the shot if he does get it off in the 4th (tired legs). There are lots of problems with Paul at the top of the key with the ball for the final play. Paul over dribbles & goes too late. All this over dribbling keeps the ball in ONE spot so the defense has plenty of time to get set & even double the ball. You see this all the time in pee wee ball where 1 guy dribbles while the other team surrounds him.

    Going too late takes away options so that there is only time for a jump shot from the double or triple teamed Paul with no chance whatsoever for a tip or put back. Doc is waaaaaayyyyy too paranoid about leaving 1 or 2 seconds on the clock. If our defense is too poor to stop them for 1-4 seconds then we don’t deserve to win.

    This play with its limited options is not surprising anyone. Every team in the nba has seen this monstrosity eleventy kazillion times so there is NO CONFUSION on what is coming & how to defend it. The defense has practiced against this stupid play for HOURS. It’s like General Eisenhower giving the D-day plans to Hitler so he could put his best, crack panzer divisions on Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah, & Omaha beaches. There is no creativity or element of surprise here. Even Sun Tzu (Art of War—-Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack) is rolling his eyes on this one. The coaching staff is really letting the team down!!!! They are way too stubborn & lazy (a lethal combination). How hard is it to draw up some NEW plays?????? Especially when this thing has been so lame.

  • Sophomore

    Sad to see Ray Allen all by his lonesome on the left side, waving his arms. Still, it would’ve taken one heck of a pass and a lightning release to get a good shot up. The play got started with too little time on the clock – probably part of why Ray’s alone. Everybody on Orlando knows how little time there is.

  • Jeff

    The critical tone here makes me want to puke! Without Paul Pierce in true hero mode, this game would have been a 20-point Orlando lead in the first half. There were many times the rest of the team was ready to play it out like a mid-season game and let Orlando take it away, but he wouldn’t let them. Rondo didn’t have anything, didn’t give anything. Even without back spasms that’s bound to finally happen after all the spectacular playoff games he’s played. Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis brought the energy, and I think Ray Allen did all he could. If there’s one guy who could have done just a little bit more somewhere along the line, been just a little more aggressive and made something happen, it’s KG. When do we get a little bit of KG hero mode?
    Bottom line: Orlando finally played playoff basketball, but I do not believe they’ve gained any momentum because the win was as brutal for them as the loss was for the C’s.

  • EEEEE

    C’s played like a bunch of arrogant fcks especially pierce. it started from game 3 when he threw the ball back thru orl hoop clowning around like he didnt see it go in.

    Yes he carried the team thru 3 periods and yes they won game 3 but something about pierce lately keeps reminding me about that indianna jersey serires he had all but locked up till pierce did his immature thing.

    KG or whoever better get in his head and the whole team better stop thinking the finals is guaranteed.

    C’s deserved to lose this game timeout or not.

  • DRJ1

    Last night’s game was an aberration. An outlier. No easy explanations… they played exactly as if they did not want to win. Not just these moments you captured, but KG throwing the ball out of bounds seconds from the end, Paul’s multiple bricks, Rondo’s non-existence for the whole game — the whole game was weird, weird, weird.

    I have theories and thoughts… but there’s no point. I’m prepared to throw this one out as an outlier… some kind of mutant that implies nothing. Let’s move ahead.

  • EEEEE

    yeah im ready to move on but it can get dangerous.

    Orl is home now with a little confidence and momentum. It can easily be 3-2 and its not a stretch to see the C’s blow the next at home to go to game 7.

    We all can see the regular season play of the celtics isnt that far in the past so the C’s inconsistant play shouldnt be ruled out from making another appearance.

    Hopefully they wake up and see how they should have closed out.

    Go C’s!

  • DRJ1

    @Bubbles– Actually, I didn’t like Paul’s last Heat shot either. Fallaway, contested 20-foot jumper? That’s exactly the shot the Heat wanted us to take, of course.

  • Chris O

    This game reminds me of game 4 with the Bruins (knock on wood). Up 3-0, no intensity for most of the game, go to OT and lose, please DON”T do this to Boston sports. I don’t think or believe the Celts will blow it but they need to play hungrier…

  • Cptn Bubbles

    @DRJ1 You’re right. All defenses prefer falling/fading away deep as possible shots. It was not an easy shot. I only liked it better for that particular game because Paul was shooting well (not 3-12 or some other bad shooting % like many other games when they went to Paul iso mode). Paul also looked energized in that PARTICULAR 4th quarter, & D Wade was not guarding him. It was a difficult shot, but Paul was much more up for it than all those other fiascoes we’ve seen throughout the season.

    I know shooters are supposed to think the next shot is going in, but don’t most shooters know when they are fatigued? legs going? I remember Bird talking about the legs going in the 4th leading to more missed shots. If Bird could feel it surely guys today should know when their legs are fatigued & pass the ball or go set a screen or do something productive—or at the very worst drive to the basket for a closer shot/foul.

    One of the worst plays I remember from this particular set which everyone has seen & studied is when the Cs played the lakers @ home. Everyone knows that Paul dribbles out the clock & goes late toward the basket (he likes to drift to the right side) & that on a few occasions Paul will pass it to Ray on the left behind the 3pt line. We only needed a deuce, but Doc was over thinking & looking to “surprise” the lakers…. as if…… The lakers, like all the other teams in the nba, have seen this same setup so many times that they defended it perfectly. Ray got Odom in his face for a highly contested 3 far away from the basket which was exactly what the lakers wanted (never mind that we only needed 2 points to win). What is frustrating is that Doc is too lazy or challenged to come up with something new & keeps repeating the same mistakes over & over. I would rather just see regular offense run & passing the ball around to get a good shot. We get great shots when we move the ball. Doc says he hates it when the ball sticks. Paul going iso with the Ray pass on the left is maximal ball stickage.

  • rick

    Doc should have called timeout!!! In a coaching chess match between Doc and Stan I’ll take Doc every time!! We are MARQUETTE!

  • DRJ1

    Agree, Bubbles.

    But game 4 was so weird… I’m just throwing it out, calling it an outlier. There was so much abnormal about that game that I suspect what we saw wasn’t what was really going on… that other issues were in play. Whatever it was, I don’t care…. I’m just throwing it out. If that’s right, the next game should be a completely different experience.

  • SNC

    Brian – Gotta say I disagree with you a bit on this one. Is the spacing on the right side of the floor bad? Absolutely. It’s pretty terrible. And, yes, that congestion hurt the play, but it didn’t kill it.

    What happened over there between Rondo and Pierce only really affected the first option of the play: Pierce’s isolation. Meanwhile, on the other side of the floor (basically just KG, Ray and their individual defenders), the 2nd option of the play is pretty much intact, and it is recognizable as something they actually utilize fairly frequently for Ray (and before his departure, E. House).

    After setting the screen on Paul’s man, Ray slips it, drifting left and runs VC (who, despite the fact that he and JR are clearly switching all the way, still manages to slightly over-commit himself to fighting through it) into a pretty effective (and, to be honest, moving) screen from KG.

    Now, I think your contention here is that this is a tough pass for Pierce to get over to Ray. I completely disagree. As I said, this is something that they’ve done with some degree of regularity over the past few years (including earlier in these playoffs), and this is how it has normally played out:

    It has almost been a “timing route” type of thing, with the passer (sometimes Pierce, and even more tellingly, the smaller Rondo) actually letting the ball go just as KG makes contact on the screen, or sometimes, just a split second before. Being engaged in the screen AS the ball is going overhead, the player actually guarding Ray is almost never a factor. So that leaves just KG’s defender as the last hope to defend the pass.

    Depending on how high Kev’s man has come up, that pass is usually delivered one of two ways: If he is about FT line or above, Rondo or Paul usually give it a little lift and lead Ray in the direction of the baseline. If that man (in this case, Howard) is below the FT line, then the pass is delivered almost parallel from the passer, over KG’s head to the wing just below the hash mark.

    Now, having seen them work the above many times, it is my opinion that if you stop the video anywhere between about 4.5 and about 3.9 left on the game clock, it is pretty obvious that either of those normal type of deliveries the C’s use on this play is definitely getting through cleanly. VC is TOTALLY engaged in the pick (actually with BOTH arms fighting off KG), and Dwight Howard is in the paint the whole time – and virtually flat-footed, at that.

    If Paul had been committed to getting that ball over to Ray – as I have seen him be on too many occasions to forget – then that pass gets to him pretty cleanly with at least 3 or so on the clock, and the rest is up to Ray.

    Now, in fairness to Paul, I’m not so sure he wasn’t “going” to make the pass. Eventually. But, he spent most of the last quarter and a half being a reluctant – or at least, late – passer (even on a few occasions where he ended up with assists), and this could have been more of the same. Whatever the case, instead of delivering, he takes that one extra “exploratory” dribble, and…well, now we’ll never know.

    With great players, you often live with the bad, because so often, they allow you to witness the great. To me, that’s pretty much what happened with Paul on this play. The ball sometimes sticks to him a little bit. It just simply does. It did so on this particular play, and this time it cost them a shot for the win. It sure would’ve been nice for C’s fans to have been able to see if Ray would’ve knocked it down, but sometimes the game is like that.

    As for Paul: I think he’s built up enough good will to let him slide on this one. ;-)

  • willybeamin

    I don’t understand the animosity towards pierce…. his own coach says the play wasn’t spaced properly so it couldn’t be run properly.

    Pierce has shown not only the ability to knock down game winners but also to defer and pass off to a teammate in big situations (i.e. glen davis last year).

    The guy got trapped because rondo didn’t space properly, and in an attempt to come back to his left he miss-dribbled… that’s going to happen during the course of any game, and in particular at the end of a hard fought game such as that one.

  • willybeamin

    and not that I expect a call at that juncture, but my goodness doesn’t Nelson hammer pierce there when he’s trying to recover???

  • Rondo is not guilty

    Com’on guys!!!
    I thought you would see it better than that!!
    Look at 0:10 on the video and you will understand that Nelson NEVER intended to go guard Rondo on the side…
    Rondo recognized it and was expecting Pierce to pass him the ball with 5 sec left and Rondo + Big Baby against only Howard…
    If Rondo goes away from the play for spacing Pierce can’t pass him the damn ball!!
    Rondo was offering Pierce an easy angle for the inevitably expected pass out of the TRIPLE TEAM Pierce was in…
    It’s bullshit to talk about spacing issue here!!
    3 against 1..?? Just PASS the damn ball to your closest teammate with 5 sec on the clock!!
    It’s ALL on Pierce!!
    If you pause the video at the 10 sec mark you will see that Rondo is wide open with 5 sec on the clock for a drive to the basket to commit Howard and pass it to Big baby for a flush, a lay up or a short mid range jumper that he has been hitting consistenly!!
    That’s a higher percentage play than pierce shooting a fade away with 2 guys on him or a cross court pass to Allen for a long 3 that could be slightly challenged…
    All on Pierce!
    None on Rondo or Spacing!!
    All on Pierce and his selfishness on this one!

  • willybeamin

    @rondo is not guilty

    then why would the coach say it was a spacing issue?

    at the :10 mark you refer to, the pick had JUST occurred from Ray, if Paul just passes to rondo there he’s not even giving the designed play that the COACH called a chance to develop.

    do I agree with you that in hindsight rondo should have gotten the pass here? yes, but that’s far to easy for us armchair quarterbacks to call. Pierce is trying to get a shot off for a trip to the finals, neither you nor I can even begin to comprehend that sort of pressure.

    to call pierce selfish because he dribbled the ball of his leg is ridiculous. We’ve seen the man pass to open teammates at crucial junctures before, why now, in 2010, when this team has played more like a team then ever pierce would become selfish is beyond me.

  • stephen

    The only way the C’s should not call a time out is if Rondo grabs the rebound and blows out of the back court–Anything short of that Rivers needs to call a time out. Sorry Doc, you totally blew that one !!!!

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Paul is a great player. He does a lot of good things, BUT he does over dribble & even dribble right into the teeth of the defense instead of passing it early on these quarter ending iso plays. I’ve watched every game except 1 this year, & I’ve seen it way too many times. At times, just about every player can be & is selfish. Paul has ended up with the same lame no shot attempt before in this set because he did not pass the ball out of the double or triple team or he went too late.

    The heart of the problem is Doc. Paul is trying to execute something which the other team has seen & practiced against. To make it worse, Doc doesn’t want Paul to go toward the basket until it is really too late to do anything except shoot a fade away jump shot. I think the reason Paul did not pass out of the double/triple team is because he was trying to run the clock down, & he wanted to be the hero. I don’t care how great a player you are. If you have 2 to 3 guys coming at you with the clock running down & a teammate is open you need to pass the ball.

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