A lot has made been in the buildup to this Finals showdown about the vaunted Lakers 3 point defense. They checked in at first place during the regular season in defending the trey, holding opponents to a 32.1 percent clip. That trend has held during the postseason as well, with LA holding the Thunder, Jazz and Suns to just 32.5 percent from deep.
On the other end, you have the Boston Celtics, who owe a lot of their postseason success to their improvement, shooting the 3 ball.
After only nailing 34.8 percent of their trifectas during the regular season, good just for just 17th in the league, they have led all teams this postseason from beyond the arc at an impressive 38.4% clip.
A 4 percent improvement for the C’s overall. That should normally set off the alarm bells for stat geeks. What cause the change? Were they feasting on weak competition. Not quite, keep in mind the C’s put up these numbers against two of the top 10 teams in the league defending the 3 ball.
The Heat and Cavs checked in at 4th and 10th respectively in those departments and the C’s had their best series of the season shooting from downtown against the Heat, hitting 43 percent of their long balls.
With all that being said, it’s evident the 3 ball will be a huge factor in this series for both squads. With one of the top shooting offenses in Boston, going up against statistically one of the best perimeter defenses, it’s clear something has to give.
Luckily for C’s fans, I like the C’s chances to keep up their hot shooting, for one crucial reason really. Unlike 2008, the C’s don’t have to be reliant on the 3 ball in their offense.
Allow me to explain further. You see, for most of this regular season the C’s weren’t a great 3-point shooting team. They were though, terrific at taking shots inside the arc.
In fact, they led the league in that department, hitting their shots 52.3 percent of the time from two-point range. They also took a higher percentage of their field goal attempts as 2 pointers than almost any other team in the league as well, checking in with 79.8 percent of their shots as 2’s throughout the season.
Those trends have continued this postseason, with 78.5% of the C’s shots coming from 2 point range with the C’s hitting 48 percent of those attempts. Not as strong as the regular season, shooting wise, but still very solid numbers.
Noting this, it’s easy to see the C’s are not an offense predicated on shooting the 3 ball. All of their 3-point shooters are capable of creating their own shot inside the arc, and quite simply the team doesn’t have that many three-point shooters.
Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace and Rajon Rondo a couple times a game. That’s it. To compensate, the C’s have a bench of players like Wallace, Glen Davis and Tony Allen that are capable of creating their own shot, either in the post or driving to the basket. It can be limiting at times for the C’s when their limited number of outside shooters aren’t hitting, but also gives the team more reliable options of scoring the ball as a whole.
That reality is one of the reasons I believe this 2010 Celtics team has improved immensely from the 2008 Finals squad. A quick review of the Celtics bench in that series shows that team was heavily reliant on the 3 ball against the Lakers. Why? Well, they had plenty of one trick ponies coming off their bench on the offensive end of the floor in James Posey and Eddie House.
Now don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t a shot at those guys. 3-point defense was a flaw for the Lakers back then, allowing 36.2% shooting from deep in the regular season, ranking 17th in the NBA. The C’s had a gameplan to take advantage of this back then, and that they did shooting an incredible 42.9% from downtown for the entire series, capped of by Ray Allen’s historical performance in game 6.
Take a look at House and Posey’s numbers though in that series:
House: 10/28 FG, 7/17 3pt
Posey: 14/28 FG, 12/24 3pt
So as you can see, shooting 3’s was quite literally all those guys could do for the C’s in that series and man did they do it well. In fact 26 percent of the C’s shots in that series came from downtown. This wasn’t a bad thing obviously, just the C’s playing to their strength.
Clearly the Lakers have improved in that department. I do thing though, their improvement for this postseason has been a bit overstated. Their defensive numbers have been inflated by the dismal shooting Thunder who shot just 29 percent against the Lakers during their 6 game series.
This isn’t exactly surprising since Oklahoma City ranked just 25th in the league from outside the arc during the regular season, worst among playoff teams.
The Lakers did, at best, a mediocre job defending the 3 against Utah, holding them to 36 percent. This number doesn’t impress at all since it came without having to defend Utah’s 2nd best downtown weapon in Okur who shot at a 39 percent clip during the regular season.
The Lakers did a nice job holding the Suns to 33 percent shooting, but owe a lot of that to the dismal first few games from Channing Frye in that series. Many of Phoenix’s wings went off for above average series (Dudley, Richardson, Hill) shooting the trey.
Again, this isn’t been to degrade LA. They have improved a lot in their defense; it’s just that I don’t consider them to be defensive juggernauts by any means in this series, especially with the array of offensive weapons the C’s have at their disposal. Doc Rivers put it best when asked about the 3 point shooting issue earlier this week:
“We have a number in mine when it comes to open looks. I think the key for us is to be the game 6 team against Orlando, and not the game 5 team. The game 6 team, the ball never stopped moving, the ball found the open guy. In game 5 (against Orlando), everyone was trying to will the game for us and do it on their own.
“That’s just not who we are. There are teams like that, the Lakers are a bit with Kobe, we just aren’t. We are not built that way anymore. We were two years ago in some ways, now we’re not. We just have to stay within what’s been working for us throughout the playoffs.”
Amen Doc. There aren’t as many weapons anymore from deep for this C’s team but they are just as dangerous. Ray Allen is shooting the ball as well as he has in his career, ever since the All-Star Break. Paul Pierce is coming off his best regular season shooting the trey in his career. Rasheed Wallace has shown he can be a factor shooting the deep ball this postseason, if his back holds up.
When these guys are on from outside, the C’s are obviously a much more scary team, nearly impossible to beat. They will pick their spots and get open looks whenever they can from the outside Make no mistake though, the C’s can score in a lot of other ways, and have the right mix of personnel to do it against the Lakers.