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.