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Fixing the Offense

 

I just did something that might be less enjoyable than watching the Sex and the City 2: I re-watched every Boston possession from the last 18 minutes of the first half of Game 6. I wanted to get a better idea of what the Lakers did to shut down the Celtics, how the Celtics responded and what opportunities the C’s could have taken advantage of had they reacted correctly.

I mean, we all know a few fundamental things Boston has to do better to win Game 7—protect the defensive glass, get to the line, avoid foul trouble now that Perk is out, get out in transition when they can, etc. There’s no sense in repeating all of that.

The bottom line is that if Boston’s half court offense produces as poorly as it did in Game 6, the Celtics have no chance to win, even if they come out on the right side of all those issues I just listed. Here are some things I think the coaches will stress once they’ve  watched the film:

Attack switches. The Lakers were ultra-aggressive in attacking screen/rolls in which Paul Pierce or Ray Allen were the ball-handlers. The big guy guarding the screener would jump out to cut off penetration, forcing Ray or Pierce away from the basket or toward the sidelines.

And when necessary, the Lakers would switch. And Boston did not do enough against those switches. A Paul Pierce mid-range shot over a big guy giving him a sliver more space than Pierce usually gets is generally a good shot, but you’ve got to mix things up, and if Big Baby is posting up Sasha Vujacic on the right block, feed Baby the fall once in a while.

And if you want to attack a big man off the dribble, then attack decisively. If you pull back and dribble for three seconds, the defense can set itself, the shot clock runs down and an advantage disappears. That leads us to…

Be decisive. Re-watching the tape, it is striking how tentative Boston was with the ball. When a defense traps and overloads the strong side, there are openings, but those openings vanish in a second. An offense must act fast, and Boston acted too often as if it had no idea what it wanted to do.

Check the 3:16 mark of the 2nd for a perfect example. Pierce and KG run a screen/roll at the top of the arc, with Pierce dribbling left around a KG screen. The Lakers trap Pierce, who swings the ball to a wide-open KG at the top of the key.

If you freeze the tape when KG makes the catch, you would think the Celtics were about to get an easy shot. Kobe has left Rondo to take Garnett, and Rondo is exactly where he should be—wide open under the rim. At the same time, Ray Allen is curling around a Shelden Williams screen toward the right corner. The two Laker defenders near Rondo and Ray (Fisher and Josh Powell) don’t quite know what to do, and no one follows Ray.

KG has two great options. But Kobe’s pressure catches him off guard, and he holds the ball over his head for two beats. That’s all it takes for those options to vanish. KG instead takes Kobe off the dribble (!) and hits a leaner as the shot clock expires.

Or check the next Boston possession at the 2:40 mark. Ray Allen enters the ball to KG on the left block and clears over to the right side of the floor. Ray’s man (Fisher) inexplicably lets him go to double KG (something Fisher did at least two other times), and Kobe also floats off of Rondo and into the paint—just enough to let KG know he’s there.

Here’s where spacing and decisiveness become issues. As KG holds the ball and surveys the scene, both Ray and Rondo are wide open. But there’s a problem: Rondo is standing on the right elbow, and Ray Allen is right behind him on the right wing. KG tosses the ball to Rondo.

And if Rajon immediately flipped it to Allen, Ray would have had an open three despite the spacing problems. But Rondo looks jittery. He fakes the pass, then jab-steps toward the rim, and then finally tosses the ball to Ray. That fake-step-pass sequence takes about a second and a half, but that’s enough for the Lakers to recover and prevent the Ray three.

The decisions must come faster tomorrow. This is also important on the those Pierce and Ray Allen screen/rolls the Lakers annihilated in Game 6. When the LA bigs would jump out on the ball-handler (Pierce or Ray), that ball-handler would (usually) dribble slowly east-west looking for an opening that wasn’t there. This forced the screener to fade away from the basket in order to make himself a target for a bailout pass.

When Pierce or Allen turned the corner quickly or hit the roll man after one dribble, good things happened. Look for more of that tomorrow.

Rondo must be active off the ball. That means more of this (from Game 1):

And less of this (also from Game 1—watch Rajon in the right corner):

Rondo must drive to score. The Celtics ran a bunch of plays on which Paul Pierce set a high screen for Rajon Rondo. All of those plays failed. The Lakers defended them all the same way: Pierce’s guy (Artest) ignored Rondo and attached himself to Pierce while Rondo’s guy (Jordan Farmar for much of this stretch) went under the Pierce screen and caught Rondo on the other side.

Farmar was able to catch Rondo for two reasons: 1) He’s fast; 2) Rondo did not attack the screen/roll. He dribbled east-west around the pick, waiting for an opening to materialize elsewhere on the court. In Game 7, Rajon must take more responsibility for creating those openings himself, and that means looking to drive on these plays.

Post up Rasheed Wallace. When is the last time this happened? Game 1? I suspect this has something to do with Sheed’s back issues, and if it does, well, this may not be a realistic option tonight.

Make the extra pass. Brian Robb mentioned this in his analysis of Boston’s offensive problems, and he’s right—the C’s seldom made the extra pass on Tuesday, and that’s a bad thing for a team that assisted on a higher percentage of its baskets than all but one other club (the Jazz). That KG clip from above—when he drives on Kobe instead of dishing to one of two open men—is a nice example. So is Rajon Rondo’s decision (4:21, 2nd) to go for a near-impossible up-and-under when he could have laid the ball down to a wide-open Big Baby in the paint.

Double Screens and Rugby Scrums. We’ve seen it before: If the first high screen/roll doesn’t give Rajon a driving lane, set him another screen near the foul line and see what happens. And if the C’s don’t give us at least three Rugby Scrums tomorrow, I hope someone asks Doc Rivers about it after the game.

There are, of course, lots of other things Boston can do to help its offense. What ideas do you guys have?

  • CG

    There are a lot of good points in there.

    The Cs tentativeness on the offensive end of the floor was striking. PP would come over a screen into a hard show and would end up 30 feet from the hoop before you know it. That is how that horrendous back pass that Kobe stole happened. I think that was actually the possession right after the two mentioned in the “Be decisive” section.

    You can often tell when KG gets the ball whether he is planning on trying to get a shot. I’d like to see him catch and adopt a more aggressive position so that the D has to play him both to shoot and pass. KG’s interior passing is a big advantage, but when he all but advertises that that is what he is trying to do, that negates the effectiveness. If Gasol gets up into him, he needs to take it to the cup, like he did in Gs 4 and 5.

    Game 6 was also notable for a total lack of inside passing or post ups. The Cs can usually post up Ray, PP, or KG at least some, and we saw very little of that, not counting the lobs to Ray over DFish (which I love to see). Good interior passing has been a hallmark of when the O is working well and it really wasn’t happening on Tuesday. One way to do that would be to pass against the flow of the Lakers rotating D on that high pick and roll. The Cs got into trouble trying to pass back to the top. They might instead try to get ahead of the rotation and pass inside to a cutter.

  • RBD

    There’s a middle ground between the half-court offense and the fast break. The 80s Celtics used to murder teams on the secondary break; situations where the D was set, but not positioned the way they like in terms of, for example, denying post position.

    If Boston can push the ball, even after makes, they can get the Lakers into uncomfortable positions on defense. Part of this is just Rajon being aggressive and probing for weaknesses, and pulling the ball back out if he can’t create a seam or a mismatch on help defense.

    It’s a GREAT point about decisiveness. Paul and Rajon both struggled mightily with that last game. We know we’re in trouble if we see multiple possessions where one of the two is dribbling around at the top of the arc waiting for something to develop. Move the ball, or if you’re in a pick and roll, then get into it and attack.

    And as you note, hard cuts without the ball are going to be important.

  • joe

    i think we will all of this, with the exception of the sheed post up, due to his back. its game 7, BOS will come out ready.

  • Coolin

    Great article. I think you nailed it on there passing and dribbling, but there shot was just not falling in Game 6.
    Garnett definitely needs to be quicker with his passes and shots.
    When Rondo attacks the rim he needs to go up with authority and take some contact.
    Ray just needs to hit the shot, damn.
    Paul will be in attack mode and will hopefully get Artest in early foul trouble.
    Sheed needs to play Great all around and be smart.

  • Sweeney

    Agreed, great article. I want to appreciate this game 7 for the epic that it is. History points to a loss, but this team has been so resilient all play-offs that I can see them pulling this off.

    My problem is a wife who has to go to work 1:00 a.m., thus I need to be quiet during the game. Is that really going to happen? AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

  • Zain

    History says we should have lost a long time ago.

    Celtic history says we’ll win tonight.

    I’m going with the latter.

  • mike

    in a one game scenario, i like perk’s absence on the offense….the lakers either have a big out of the paint to respect sheed and baby’s midrange/3point game, thus giving rondo more space to attack, or you have gasol and odom out there and maybe odom has one of his no shows…

  • Perry

    As always, great job Zach.

    The fortunes of this game will be trusted upon Rondo. In transition for sure, cutting backdoor…absolutely, but equally important is for him to figure how to be a dominant presence without nailing that 18 footer that will be available anytime he wants it. When it comes to doing the intangibles there’s no one better, but I think he’s conscious of the missed free throws, which may explain why he hasn’t been aggressive. Meantime if the Celts have the mid range game going off the pick, and Sheed can establish himself on the blocks, Kobe will be working harder defensively. That could be a major factor in determining the outcome.

  • Sophomore

    @mike – hope you’re right. As Zach points out, it works only if Rondo uses that space to attack.

    I also think they’re very, very keyed in on PP isolation and driving after game 5. Somebody else has to step up.

  • Black Mamba

    Lakers are going to close out game 7 with a score of 72-43 Boston can’t handle real talent

  • coaltrain

    @Black Mamba

    That point total doesn’t even begin to make sense.

  • Tom W

    we shouldn’t even have to dignify Black Mamba’s comment with a response. but.

    Dwayne Wade? Lebron James? Dwight Howard? These players aren’t real talent? really?

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    “pressure catches him off guard”
    “looks jittery”
    “decisions must come faster”

    The Cs just seemed shellshocked by laker defensive pressure that they’d hadn’t seen since Game1. I think they will have their sea-legs tonight and respond with more crisp play.

    Predicting Sheed will be on the block a lot early. No reason he can’t put up 10-15 points down-low…..its just mindset and effort.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    @mike. i like. i think the Cs are actually a net plus with sheed + baby covering for perk (for one game). what worries me is that its either sheldon or scal that will have to give them breathers.

  • KB

    I think we should start Tony Allen instead of Ray Ray so he can play stingy defense and make Kobe work hard and not get into a rhythm. That way, when Ray comes off the bench, he’ll have fresh legs and hopefully be able to be more productive and gain a rhythm. Also, if it’s a close game at the end, Pierce on Kobe should be a no brainer.

  • DRJ1

    It all came down to Rondo in game 6… and he was busy doing his best to lose that game. That the whole story for me. But it’ll be a different story in game 7, and now, that’s all that matters.

  • sam

    bb

  • sam

    Boston needs to play like baseballs last game of the year pitching wise as in everyone’s available. Rotate early and often keep everyone fresh get glen Davis alot more touches as he is there best low post scorer , keep Tony Allen alot more minutes on Kobe as he has done the best job of anyone I have ever seen guarding him , do not play S.Williams your rotation should be 1 Davis 2 Garnett 3 Wallace don’t be afraid to go small with Peirce at the 4 for a few possesions just to mix it up see if you can’t get some easy runouts and R.Allen threes in transition N.Robinson should play more minutes keep the tempo fast and the guys fresher and that should negate the home crowd somewhat my opinion boston will be better running alot Allen Ray running and T Allen and Peirce and Robinson they are much more likely to win in a running as opposed to half court against LA Garnett has to realize he has to defer the scoring inside to Davis who is far superior at this point in life run run run and ye shall have a good chance do not try to keep it close and pull it out at the end their closers are to strong Bryant Gasol and Odom and Fisher play it like its your last

  • http://hoopstersworld.blogspot.com miss j.moxie

    Thanks for being so brave, Zach. I couldn’t bring myself to rewatch game 6.

  • http://www.voyeurcamvideo.com Steve Prinkey

    Good

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