Here is how the Magic’s shot selection numbers finished up for the Eastern Conference Finals as compared to their regular-season numbers. All stats are per game and found via the indispensable Hoopdata:
Boston series Regular Season
At rim 11.7-of-19.5 (59%) 15.1-of-24.1 (62.8%)
< 10 feet * 5.7-of-12 (47.2%) 3.9-of-8.3 (46.5%)
10-15 feet 2.5-of-5.8 (43%) 2.3-of-5.6 (41.4%)
16-23 feet 2.7-of-9.8 (27%) 5.1-of-12.6 (40%)
Threes 8.2-of-24.2 (34%) 10.3-of-27.3 (37.7%)
FTAs 29.5 26.5
So what happened?
Boston pulled off three things it wanted to do defensively:
1) The C’s allowed Orlando fewer shot attempts at the rim. I suspect two things account for this. In order of priority: A) The Celtics were willing to foul Dwight Howard whenever he got the ball near the basket, even it meant one of their non-KG big man accumulated fouls fast; B) Perkins is strong enough to push Howard out of what Hoopdata considers “at the rim” range and into what Hoopdata considers the area between the rim and the 10-foot mark.
We saw video evidence of this here, and you can see the only area of the floor in which the Magic attempted more shots against Boston than they did in the regular season was that area between the rim and the 10-foot mark. And that jump, from 8.3 field-goal attempts to 12 shots, is a huge, huge jump in a series in which so many games were close.
2) The Celtics allowed fewer three-point attempts. Three fewer attempts per game doesn’t sound like much, but, again, in a series between two evenly matched teams, every possession matters.
3) The C’s were able to run the Magic off the three-point line and contest mid-range shots strongly. Orlando’s shooting percentage on shots from the paint out to the foul line remained at regular-season levels, while their percentage on long twos dropped sharply.
What does any of this mean going into the Finals? Well, it means that Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the staff are smart and understand what a team’s strengths are and how best to chip away at those strengths. But the Lakers, as you know, are a totally different animal. They’re an average shooting team at the rim and a below average one from deep, but they are capable of shooting well from either area in any individual game.
Meanwhile, they thrive in the mid-range area that is an after thought for so many other teams, according to Hoopdata. The triangle is an adaptable offense that can produce good looks anywhere on the court. It will be fascinating to watch how the Celtics defend LA and how LA responds.
Meanwhile, here are Boston’s shot location numbers from the Orlando series:
Orlando series Regular season
At rim 11.5-of-20.7 (55.6%) 16.6-of-25.7 (64.4%)
< 10 3.5-of-8 (43.8%) 4.6-of-9.9 (46.6%)
10-15 3.3-of-7.7 (43.5%) 3.0-of-6.9 (42.9%)
16-23 7.8-of-21.6 (36%) 6.8-of-16.6 (40.8%)
Threes 6.5-of-16 (40.6%) 6.1-of-17.5 (34.8%)
There is a lot not to like in this data, isn’t there? Boston was the 2nd-best shooting team in the league this season on at-the-rim shots, but they couldn’t come close to their season-long mark against the Magic. That’s obviously the Dwight Howard effect, but the Lakers ranked 10th in the NBA at protecting the rim during the regular season, according to Hoopdata’s defensive numbers.
The Magic also discouraged Boston from even attempting shots at the rim, as Boston’s attempts from in-close dropped by 5 per game.
Yes, these are small sample sizes, but these things matter in games and in series. With Andrew Bynum providing a strong defensive presence, the Celtics ability to get into the paint and score will be key.
As you can see, the C’s turned those missing at-the-rim shots into long two-pointers from that 16-to-23 feet range, which is not really ideal.
They also caught fire from three-point range, hitting at a rate (40.6 percent) only the Suns eclipsed in the regular season.
And guess which team allowed the lowest opponent three-point percentage during the season?
That would be the Lakers, who just got through turning the Suns into something resembling the worst three-point shooting team in the league.
And that, more than anything else, is why I never joined the “Beat L.A.” chorus and came out in preference of playing the Lakers in the Finals. The Celtics can absolutely beat the Lakers. It would be more meaningful historically to beat the Lakers. We know this. But if you’re giving me a choice between a team that is very good at offense and defense and a team that is off-the-charts at one and bad at the other, I’m taking the team that doesn’t play good defense every time.
Instead, we get the Lakers.
So: Beat L.A.!