Post-game Reactions

The idea has come up in a few places today: Should the Celtics go small? John Hollinger mentioned it today, and damned if I didn’t just hear Dave freaking Cowens say the words “Nellie Ball” during a phone interview that just played on ESPNews. 

The idea is that all the evidence from Games 1-6 suggests Tony Allen is Boston’s most effective defender on Kobe Bryant. Playing TA requires benching either Ray Allen or Paul Pierce in order to maintain a traditional line-up that can deal with LA’s size. But if the C’s go small, they can play all three together. 

Going small, traditionally, would mean shifting Paul Pierce to the power forward spot and lining up with: Rondo/Ray/TA/Pierce/KG. 

Boston can also go small-ish by keeping their traditional line-up and playing Brian Scalabrine at power forward, which some folks are suggesting as a stop-gap should one of the C’s three trusted big men get in foul trouble. (And by stop-gap, I mean, “stop Shelden Williams from getting on the floor”). 

Look: I have no clue what Doc Rivers and his staff are talking about right now, but gun to my head, I doubt we’ll see either of these scenarios in Game 7.

It should be obvious that the Celtics could only go small when the Lakers remove Andrew Bynum, shift Pau Gasol to center and bring in Lamar Odom to play the four. Going small against a line-up that contains Bynum and Gasol is not an option. 

Going small always sounds great. Hell, the Celtics won Game 7 against Chicago last year in part because they finally decided to match Chicago’s small line-up with one of their own by tossing Eddie House onto the floor instead of Tony Allen. 

But it strikes me as problematic here for several reasons:

The Celtics have barely done it. Excluding line-ups that logged less than a minute of floor time together this season, Boston played Paul Pierce at the power forward spot for about 60 minutes combined in the regular season, according to Basketball Value’s line-up data. That amounts to almost nothing. 

Some of those line-ups have worked in a plus/minus sense; the Pierce-House-Rondo-Ray-KG unit was +16 in just 8 minutes, and the Pierce-Daniels-House-Rondo-Sheed line-up was +14 in just under 8 minutes. A third hybrid of these two units—Rajon-House-Pierce-Ray-Sheed—was +13 in just 5:20 of playing time.

Those are monster numbers, but the sample sizes are tiny. Also notice none of those line-ups included the pairing of Rondo and TA. There is not nearly enough data to support this notion, but I wonder if pairing two guards who can’t/don’t shoot jumpers negates some of the effectiveness of a small line-up. 

I’m not sure Game 7 is the time to experiment with a small line-up that includes Rondo and TA, though all bets are off if the Celtics fall way behind early. 

Rebounding. The Lakers destroyed Boston on the glass in Game 6, and, as I’m sure you’ve heard at least 85 times today, the team that has grabbed more rebounds has won all six games so far in this series. And while that is a pseudo-trend, the Celtics will not win tomorrow if LA is able to rebound a third of its own misses again. When rebounding is concern No. 1—as Doc has said it is—I’m not sure going small is a realistic answer.

Enabling Artest and Odom. I actually think Paul Pierce could defend Odom credibly for short stretches despite giving up three inches in height. Pierce is a gritty rebounder when he puts his mind to it, and Odom’s low-post game is not a threat. 

But Phil Jackson isn’t dumb, and if he sees Boston go small, he’ll insert Ron Artest immediately and tell him to go the low block against Ray Allen. And Ray has no chance down there against Artest, who can be an effective post-up player if he finds a mismatch. Artest becomes a scorer, and Ray Allen could pick up two quick fouls in a minute. 

The Scal Issue. Shelden Williams has looked uneasy (and that’s being generous) in the limited minutes he has played in the Finals, so it’s understandable that with Boston down to three bigs, a segment of fans would clamor for Scal to be the fourth big man on the depth chart tomorrow night in case of foul trouble. 

The fact that we’re having a Shelden v. Scal debate on the eve of Game 7 illustrates how important it is for the C’s to avoid disastrous foul trouble. And when you’re having that debate, just know this: You’re debating between a borderline elite rebounder (that’s not a joke) and one of the three or four worst rebounding power forwards in the league. 

Scal can hit an open jumper, and he’ll make the sound pass and the right defensive rotation. 

Is that enough to off-set the drop in team rebounding—in a series in which the Lakers have killed Boston on the boards in all three LA wins? 

I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure I just spent 800 words writing about two issues that are unlikely to be a factor tomorrow. What’s far more likely: Doc rides the KG/Sheed/Baby trio until the end.

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Zach Lowe

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  • I love Green

    Yeah KG will play 40+ and Sheed and Baby will play 30+. I don’t think Scal or Sheldone will be making an appearance.

  • You know—The Celtics may need to consider playing a zone on the Lakers for at least part of the game. This gave the Lakers lots of problems during the Phoenix series. Will Doc consider it? — Doubtful, but just a suggestion.

  • put sheed on the first five..off the bench would be tony, nate, big baby and scal..this guys have big hearts on this kind of big game..i know we can pull this off..i have zero trust on shelden and marquis..

  • put sheed on the first five..off the bench would be tony, nate, big baby and scal..this guys have big hearts on this kind of big game..i know we can pull this off..

  • I love Green

    @Stephen- Once LA figured out a good game plan against the zone they torched it. We’d play better man to man anyways

  • Coolin

    Good write up and Doc is going to have a lot to think about before the game when it comes to who guards who.

    I like Pierce on Bryant and this is the wild card, but I like Daniels on Artest. Call me crazy, but I think he would do a good job on him unlike Ray or TA. Pierce is definitely up for the challenge of Kobe and he won’t exert as much energy as he does guarding Lebron James. Plus Daniels can foul Artest or atleast try and get into his head.

    The more I think about this game the more faith I have. This will not be impossible like a lot think, we just need to catch the Lakers off guard with some good coaching. Also, making layups won’t hurt either.

  • @ I Love Green—Again, just a suggestion.Everyone has to step up tomorrow, but I like the idea of putting Truth on Kobe. I think that will keep PP even more involved in the game. He will come up big if he has the primary responsibility of checking Kobe, Just like in 2008 he’ll take the personal challenge and play better on both ends.

  • lakers for life

    just like the great steve nash said”were not going to get any taller by the next game”just a hopefull laker fan but it seems logical that the lakers will get the rebound edge only ti,e will tell go lakers

  • I love Green

    @Stephen- Yeah I like Pierce on Kobe as long as TA isn’t in the game. If Tony’s in I want him on Kobe, if not then Paul should be on him. If they’re the only 2 guys guarding Kobe then he’s in for a long long ninght. Hopefully Doc gives it some thought.

  • DeVelaine

    I may be wrong… But hasn’t Rondo always taken the idea that one of the starting 5 is missing as a reason to motivate him toward some of his better games? I don’t think we’d see another 29-18-13 game from him, but a triple double here isn’t out of the question seeing how he feels he needs to shoulder some more of the rebounding duties with a big out.

  • Agreed, I like TA on Kobe as well. I just don;t want him shooting unless it’s going to the hole in transition. Everytime TA Shoots from the perimeter I cringe.

  • PierceTurth

    i dont if it’s just me or if everyone is seeing it to but does the laker court just seem smaller than other courts? i mean it seems like whenever a celtic drives to the hoop theres a yellow jersey everywhere

  • @ DeVelaine——Good point. With Perk out it actually sets Rondo up for a big game. He knows he;s going to have to cheat in to help with the rebounding, and when he snags them it allows him to blow out of the back court and then good shit happens. Rondo needs to play smart yet still force the tempo. Without Perk, no way we win a half-court battle.

  • @PierceTurth—-If Rondo controls the pace like we know he can and blows out of the back court you’ll stop seeing all those yellow jerseys.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    They could play small if they put HEAVY pressure on the lake’s guards at all times. If you trap & frustrate the lake’s ball handlers then they can’t get into what they like to run & the pass doesn’t make it inside, where they are strong, because the ball handler is too preoccupied with the defender all up in his space. You have to play aggressive, relentless D. If we are extremely active on D we will get deflections & steals & get out for ez buckets. I would even pressure full court because kobe likes to bring the ball up if there is pressure & you can use a lot of energy trying to bring the ball up vs constant pressure. We need to try & tire kobe out as much as possible before the 4th.

    A lot of times Kobe reacts to intense ball pressure with ‘you can’t guard me, watch this….hero mode kobe.’ This is the kobe we want. There’s 2 ways I’ve seen to entice kobe into hero kobe, talk trash or guard him very closely. Hero kobe wants to save the universe by his moto Shoot, shoot, shoot, & shoot some more. Even if he makes a decent % it takes his team out of their high percentage post game & many of the other lakers go into spectator mode (what phil was warning them not to do). If we can make the other lakers watchers then I’m all for kobe scoring forty or fitty. As long as we defensive rebound we can beat that kind of 1 man show. The only way we are really going to defensive rebound well is for Rajon to be moving & pursuing the ball while it is in flight (when other guys are just standing there watching the ball instead of moving)… getting the step on all the bigger, slower rebonders & beating them to the spot. Then, when Rajon secures rebounds, it is an immediate turn & burn into a unset laker D. Sometimes Rajon just lets the bigs battle as he sneaks 1/4 of the way down the court hoping for the pass if they clear the ball, but I think Rajon is gonna have to forget that! & bring his hardest working game of the season & be right in the middle of all the rebounding action.

    I think you’ll be able to tell a lot about where this game is headed by who is running hard, diving to the floor, & winning all the 50/50s. The Cs have to out work the lake to have a chance.

  • kevin

    People have discounted the celtics going small because of the problems that the lakers may pose for rebounding and size advantage on offense. But, how would the lakers guard the celtics if they are small. Pierce has repeatedly beaten odom off the dribble or beaten him with a quick step back all series when odom switches on to him. If they wanted to stop Pierce, Odom would have to guard TA or Ray. He can’t keep up with Ray and TA can take him to the hole every time while making half of his layups. If odom is on pierce, artest will have to take TA or Ray. Both also pose an offensive matchup problem for him, as he cannot run with ray and TA is much quicker off the dribble.

  • RBD

    Hey Zach – some really solid analysis from you and the other guys lately. Enjoyed this piece a lot.

  • Shooter

    I’m like Jack from Lost………….”this is how it’s supposed to be Hurley”.
    I think this is how it’s meant to be,game 7 all or nothing on the line.No more 2nd chances,no more re-adjustments,no more “well be better next game.
    This is it,this is how it’s supposed to be game 7,the two best franchises in the history of basketball going at it.

  • legs-diamond

    I think Captain Bubs hits on the right idea. Rondo, T Allen, even Ray Allen, should all pressure Fish and Kobe and Farmar. This worked with Cleveland and Orlando, disturbing Mo Williams and Jameer Nelson, and slowing down offenses. It’s an area where the C’s can excel. And none of the Lakers ballhandlers are Chris Paul. Meanwhile, Pierce and Garnett are great freelancers on defense. Of all the great import in these current game 7 articles this makes most sense to me.

  • Ray Leighton

    I’m a big fan of the small-ball lineup and I wish we would use it as a weapon more often. As Bubbles and Legs have noted, this is a serious ballhawking defense that puts a lot of pressure on the Lakers to bring up the ball, and also takes away a few extra seconds on the 24-shot clock. And yes, Odom has been unable to handle Pierce. I think that pressure defense and transition could break things open, and with both Allens on the floor, then TA is less of a liability on offense as we still keep Paul and Ray available for 3-pointers. And TA really has done the best job on Kobe. And here’s a scary stat that it took me some time to work out — Ray Allen shoots threes at about 60% on fast breaks. I suppose that makes sense because he is wide open, but what better way to get Ray hot? With the small lineup, we are quicker down the court at every position.

    I also do not believe that Ron Artest will shoot as well in Game 7, which will make it easier for Paul to cheat off him on defense, as he has been doing all series.

    As for our “regular” lineup with Sheed — well, I am sure that it has escaped no one on this website that Sheed, the guy we all have beaten on, now has the opportunity to be the hero. Sheed has championship experience, he has the length and strength to push Gasol out of his comfort zone, he’s played some really solid and sometimes stellar defense this series, and…. here’s a hopeful stat:

    Sheed’s performance at the 5 spot is significantly better than his performance at the 4. His offensive production, defensive production, and production differential all are -much- higher when he is playing center. This is probably at least in part due to the fact that at center, he is far less likely to shoot threes as the Celtics don’t really have an option for that in their offensive sets. At center, Sheed is forced to be the strong low-post player that he is — I’m hoping that Doc actually tries to establish Sheed on the post early and make Gasol work hard on defense. We’ve all seen games where Sheed has been terrific shooting out of the low post. But interestingly, it also turns out that Sheed is better on defense at the 5. Not only does he give up fewer points per 48, but he blocks more than twice as many shots, gets twice as many steals — and all with only a trivial increase in fouls.

    I think that we are used to seeing Sheed at the 4, because he mostly played the 4 with Detroit, and because we perceive Sheed as KG’s sub. But actually, the older Sheed may be a more natural 5. In any event, he has the potential to be a weapon with which the Lakers have not really dealt.

    If Sheed has a great game and we win, I not only will forgive him for all of the frustration and high bp he caused me during the season, but I will go out and buy a Celtics’ jacket with his name on it.

    Go Celtics!!

  • Joe

    I don’t get this going small idea – why is it coming out right now, of all times? The Celtics problem in Game 6 was not that they couldn’t stop Kobe, it’s that they couldn’t buy a freaking bucket. The Lakers scored 89 points on an OK shooting percentage. This is not the time for a gimmick adjustment to maximize defensive matchups – the offense has to show up for Boston. In Game 6 it was completely shut down. This happened in large part because the Lakers slacked off of Rondo and packed in the help D, with aggressive hedges and traps, especially on Pierce. Put Tony Allen in there and you have two guys who destroy any offensive spacing. LA is begging them to take jumpers. That lineup allows the Lakers’ to chase PP off his sweet spots AND to hedge/trap aggressively on Ray. On the other hand, I’m a Lakers’ fan, so by all means, bring the Nellie-ball!

  • rob

    Doc and the staff must have a plan for a game without perk. They had to have made one with him being one technical away from a suspension so i think people need to realize that this won’t catch us off guard and that it will only motivate this whole team to win this for perk the most under appreciated player on the team. This game looks like one for the ages as a motivated injured team goes against a cocky group of jackasses, i couldn’t be more excited.

  • Ray Leighton

    @Joe — the point is that the biggest swings in the Celtics’ favor this series have been out of defense and transition. It sounds odd because the Celtics are older, but with small-ball, we also happen to be faster at all five spots. Basically, we’ve run you guys off the court in any game in which we have scored a lot of transition baskets. We wouldn’t be taking jumpers except for Ray threes; we’d be taking layups. The gimmick is not for our defense, it’s for our offense. In a running game, TA ceases to be a liability on offense. That said, we’ve also had good results on defense during the regular season with both TA and Rondo in the backcourt applying pressure.

    I’m not suggesting that we should use this strategy all the time and the critical issue would be whether the Lakers’ offense could punish us for going small. But to do that, you have to have both Bynum and Gasol on the court — and Bynum is not exactly fast, even when his knee is healthy. In fact, small-ball might be a very quick way of forcing him off the court.

    It really comes down to exploring options when Perk is unable to play. We each need our big center out there when the other one is on the floor. But if Perk can’t play, does a hobbled Bynum become a liability against a small unit?

  • Perry

    Those small line ups are too small a sample to form a reasonable conjecture, and they are too risky to chance in a game 7. Indeed foul trouble may induce Doc to go small; otherwise I doubt we’ll see it happen unless it’s to rest the bigs around the quarters. I don’t much like spotting Pierce on Odom who has shown a propensity to back him down and shoot over him in this series.

    Doc was rather coy about who starts tonight, but these are the moments why Sheed was bought in. Davis may be the more effective of the two in this series, but on the blocks Sheed is our best defensive option against Gasol, who registered nine assists in game 6. Celts can’t afford to let LA run their offense from inside-out.

    I expect Kevin to open on Bynum. As the game wears on Bynum becomes less of a factor because of his knee swelling up. So there is a good chance Jackson will use a Gasol-Odom line for the entire second half. With any luck Kevin can preserve some energy early on because we’ll need him to play a solid 40 minutes.

  • trindog

    It all boils down to who wants it more. No more adjustments are necessary. These guys are in the NBA finals game 7. It hurts that Perk is out but hell this team has thrived in adverse situation all year. The have been too old all year, they have played 500 ball since Christmas day, They had the 4th seed entering the playoffs, And the so called “experts” had the Cs going down in the 1st round. All of that and here we are in Game 7 for all the chips. This team has three future Hall of Famers that know how to when, but more importantly play with their backs against the wall. They have a fiery point guard who has learned a hell of a lot from the three aforementioned Hall of Famers. They have a coach who has made all the right moves all season long to get his team in this position. I anticipate a huge game from two of three and some unseen contribution from an unsuspecting source. I ha the Cs in 6 but I am even more confident in game 7

  • Dustball

    Odom’s low post game is not a threat? Maybe you should ask the lakers staff or Pat Riley about that, better yet George Karl or Stan Van Gundy. Odom is most effective in the post. Watch the Denver and Orlando series last year if you need evidence of this fact. He’s not a good outside shooter and can only dribble left… Yes he’s quick and incredibly athletic for 6’11”, but he is by far at his best receiving the ball in good post position. Unfortunately, he fancies himself a guard and every coach he’s ever had has had to beg him to get on the block and stop jacking up 3s.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    rondo and TA should never be on the floor together. ever. the opposing D just collapses and the O just stops.

    agree with @I love Green, KG needs to play the whole game and sheed + baby need to do the rest. scal or sheldon will only provide short breathers. the bigs just can not get into foul trouble or its game over…..i imagine the zenmaster will run it through the post the whole 1st quarter to try and make that happen.

  • @dustball: I watched all of those series, and I agree, Odom is an accomplished player down there. But when you don’t use something, it’s not a threat.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    The lake like to use kobe & odom to bring the ball up when there is pressure. I’ve seen the Cs back off of odom. What they should do is pressure odom with rajon. Odom dribbles the ball pretty high & rajon is very good at steals off of bigs dribbling. DON’T try to pressure odom with glen or sheed in the back court bringing up the ball. They are way too slow. Sometimes the smallest things can change games, although ball pressure is really big to me.