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C’s 102, Hawks 90: The Big 3 Remind Us Why We Called Them That

 

Nate throws a celebratory backspin in Al Horford's face.

ESPN Box ScoreHoopinionPeachtree Hoops

Pace: 88 possessions (snoozefest)

Offensive Efficiency: 115.9 points/100 possessions (much better than league best)

Defensive Efficiency: 102.3 points allowed/100 possessions (eh)

“They still had three Hall of Famers out there.” – Josh Smith

He’s so right. For the second night in a row, this team proved that it doesn’t need everything to go right, or even most things, as long as there are at least three Hall of Famers out there. When there are gaps in the roster, the remaining players step up to fill them in, even playing out of position like Pierce did at the point tonight. When certain aspects of the system aren’t working well (Pierce attacking the rim), the players compensate by leaning extra hard on the parts that are (Ray Allen, Glen Davis).

Remember when Shaq put Al Horford in his belly three weeks ago? The C’s didn’t have him tonight, and it didn’t matter. Notice that the Hawks took 24 free throws to the C’s 11 tonight? You probably didn’t. The Celtics gave you no reason to care about that. The offense gave up on drawing fouls at the rim because everyone was getting good looks from farther out, except Nate Robinson, because what constitutes a good look for Nate Robinson is a very complex philosophical matter. No, we’re not done with him.

The C’s blew out the Hawks in their last outing because the Hawks reacted to an early Celtic run by quitting the game. Tonight, the C’s answered Hawk runs with runs of their own. At the turn of the 4th quarter, the Hawks made a few jumpers to close the lead to two. The Celtics answered with Ray Allen steals in consecutive possessions, a throwback offensive rebound from Baby, a jumpball won by Nate over Jeff Teague, and seven unanswered points on behalf of Baby, Nate, and Semih.

Speaking of Ray Allen getting his team going…

ENJOY THIS SEQUENCE

It’s like somebody wrote that sequence for maximum comedy effect. So awesome.

ZERO FOR ELEVEN

That’s Josh Smith on the floor in two games against the C’s this year. In the last game, I wrote this about KG defending Smith:

“For much of the early game, it wasn’t that Smith couldn’t find a good shot, it was that his teammates couldn’t find him…KG was great and all, but he may not have been as great as Josh Smith was bored.”

MAN was that not what happened tonight. KG was completely zonked after last night’s game, but that put him in this kind of half-asleep homicidal rage against Smith all evening. He had this dead look in his eyes, like the thought of how much grief he might cause his fellow man was boring to him. It took me a while to find it on Google Image but here it is:

Don’t blame Josh Smith. If that face were guarding you, you too would miss shots from 0, 2, 5, 6, 17, 19, 23, and 26 feet.

NOW FOR THE TEACHABLE MOMENTS

You know a player is making dumb mistakes when there’s nothing for a coach to say afterwards other than “Please never do that again.” Like that time when Nate Robinson passed the ball to Mike Bibby to open up a fast break, then caught up to Marvin Williams just in time to gently foul him on the butt as he laid the ball in.

Or when the Celtics almost forced a backcourt violation, only to watch helplessly as Nate CHASED THE BALL DOWN TO SAVE IT FROM CROSSING HALFCOURT and then immediately passed it to Mike Bibby again. What do you say about those things if you’re Doc Rivers? Do you just not speak to Nate for the rest of the game? He had six turnovers tonight, and they weren’t forced passes at the end of the shot clock: according to the ESPN play-by-play they happened with 9, 16, 11, 22, 9, and 20 seconds remaining. Without Shaq in the game to draw defenders inside, Nate had a lot of trouble finding his teammates. He also shot badly tonight, both in terms of his selection and execution, but he managed to make that a secondary issue.

Commenters have defended Nate because “he’s not Rajon Rondo.” No argument there, fellas. My issue with Nate is that his decision-making abilities are such that he should not be the person who spends the most time controlling the ball, especially in a game without an effective center to spread the floor. Yes, it’s one game, but this is a guy with a reputation for poor decisions and who physically cannot see over defenders. Yes, sometimes his poor decisions, like a pull-up three on a two-on-one break, lead to good results. That doesn’t mean we should congratulate him for taking these shots, because more often than not he’s costing the team points. We should be cognizant of the fact that this is a team with a system based on ball movement (at least among the starters), and Nate has shown little interest in conforming to that system when he runs the offense.

This is what confuses me about people who defend Nate: his brand of basketball is a major reason why most Celtics fans didn’t like Nate when he played on the Knicks, so I don’t see why we should be more understanding now that he’s on the team. Logically, we should probably be less.

Nate Robinson is a very talented player. I like him a lot as a person. I kind of enjoyed one of his dunk contest victories. But Doc shouldn’t be afraid take the ball out of his hands. I understand Rondo and Delonte are out, but things worked better tonight when Pierce brought it up.

(Also, I’m about 85% sure this is the second time this season Nate heroically prevented a backcourt violation on defense. I’d love it if somebody could tell me that I’m right about this.)

OH RIGHT, THIS

I don’t see Baby getting fined for that, needless to say. This is what happened: when Baby intentionally fouls someone, he courteously holds onto their shoulders so they don’t go flying out of bounds. But Pachulia took this as an opportunity to do everything but blow a rape whistle on Davis so he could draw a flagrant foul. And you know what? I bought it before I saw the replay. It was too crazy not to be real. And look how Baby reacts like a spurned lover in that video. He seems actually hurt that Pachulia didn’t understand that Baby was trying to help him. All the major dramatic elements were on the floor at that moment.

FINALLY

Baby was awesome. That balance we were looking for a few weeks ago?

Yeah, we’re good. Let’s celebrate Semih’s points and panic over Semih’s rebounding in the comments.

  • Green Man

    I actually thought Nate played pretty well. Yea, there were a few bonehead plays here and there (hi, tony allen!), but i really think he has controlled himself pretty well since coming to boston. he does jack up those irresponsible threes from time-to-time, but hey, i'd still take him over eddie house any day. krypto's much more versatile, i think.

    I actually wanna give props to him. he plays hard, doesn't mesh his ego with the other stars, and is the best cheerleader since ML Carr. i feel you're trying to nitpick (coz, hey, there ain't much to complain about how things are going now, anyway) by pointing out his "reputation for bad decisions", but call me crazy, i think ate has adapted wonderfully into the celtics' system and gives them that extra little 'oomph' through his improv in an otherwise stick-to-the-script play calling. Go celts! 12 in a row ~babeeee~

    • zebulon

      Agreed – but Nate fits so much better in that role when playing with the second unit. As Rondo has proved this year, our first unit already has four very efficient offensive players (Ray, Paul, Shaq and KG) – each of whom is deserving of a bunch of shots every game. Nate is not the kind of PG that excels in getting these players the ball at the right time.

      On the other hand, he is an excellent player. Always has been a high usage guy, and always shoots the three ball well along with getting to the rim often (the two most efficient ways to score). Added to a second unit playing alongside ray or paul, Nate provides a huge jolt of offense to a unit that is otherwise more focused on the defensive end.

    • hdavenport

      I pretty much agree with your appraisal other than his "adapting wonderfully into the system." I don't think he's adapted much at all. On a team that emphasizes ball movement, Nate usually tries to forge space for himself first, and only if nothing materializes will he try to find an open man. Unfortunately, he's usually in midair when this process begins.

      Like zebulon says, the second unit isn't as system-driven, so he doesn't hurt as much there and can help a lot more with his offense.

  • JCP

    I haven't read the post yet… but I did see this and started laughing my head off: "Nate throws a celebratory backspin in Al Horford's face"

    OK… I'll go read the article.

  • CG12

    Nate is trying. He really is. The problem with Nate is that the same things that make him such a knucklehead are what makes him fun and valuable to the Cs – his explosiveness, energy, and swagger. So the Celtics have to try and rein in Nate in just the right way and just the right amount. Nate is not and should never be expected to be a "game manager." He is a difference maker, and should make things happen when he plays. That means taking the bad with the good, but hopefully as little bad as possible.

    Nate's pressure defense is good (something Rondo does infrequently), but his pick and roll defense is, like Rondo's, not very good. Delonte is way better than both of them on pick and roll D. Nate should never be asked to initiate the offense by bouncing it 10 feet from the top of the key, waiting to hand off or throw an entry pass. Zero point in that. Have Marquis do it. Nate should play off the ball or have license to try to break down the D off the dribble. His ability to get into the paint opens up lanes for his bigs. But running plays – no thanks.

    How Semih fails to get a rebound mystifies me. He may be a better offensive rebounder than defensive. He is around the ball a lot, but isn't able to translate that into coming up with it. His hands appear to be suspect. He has trouble catching it in traffic on O, or taking it away from guys on the boards. He is much more likely to tip it away. But he is good at getting his body on his man and is very active in the paint, so I continue to think he will improve substantially as the season continues. I'd be curious to see how the team as a whole rebounds while he is in. At the very least, he knows how to roll to the hoop, which will get him several buckets a game.

    • Jim

      I think Semih might be hurting more then we know. Since he hurt his hand and shoulder his game has slid but I really think he has great potential . When the season started his rebounding and ball handling were much better.

    • John

      Semih is a pretty terrible rebounder for a guy with his body type. He's a legit 7-footer with some bulk (unlike Mikki Moore) so we expect him to be decent on the boards, but even in the FIBA tournament, his rebounding numbers have been pretty mediocre/bad. His hands are terrible (a few boards simply clanked off his fingertips tonight) and while he's active in the paint, he just has terrible positioning and his blocking out is often half-hearted at best. He uses his hands rather than his body to block out and spends more time watching the ball bounce off the cylinder than checking his man, which means guys can just easily slide along the baseline and get good inside position on him. He goes up with one hand like KG last year, but without great athleticism he just gets outjumped and outmuscled for the ball sometimes. His defensive rebounding % of 14.2 is lower than Pierce (15.2) and Baby (15.2), and much lower than KG (an outrageous 31.7) and Shaq (23.8). He gets a few offensive boards, but mostly because he is one of the few guys who regularly crashes the boards on that end (and it often leads to him being late on defense or being winded once he gets there).

      Look, Semih is a decent player, especially for a rookie Euro big, but he has a long ways to go, especially in his rebounding and non-catch-and-dunk offensive game. He's a nice passer but is also turnover prone (he travels a ton when he tries to make post moves and gets stripped easily). Let's not overrate him just because he works hard and everyone likes him.

      • John

        Oops, Baby's DREB% is 18.2.

      • Sean

        He's got that shoulder injury and the hand injury to worry about. Any time you see him going up for a dunk or a board, it's the good shoulder that he uses while the other stays down.

        Also to add, Tommy's a big fan of his and thinks he will be a "super big" eventually. Counter to your comment, Tommy likes his hands and a few guys have remarked on his arsenal of post moves. Needless to say, he is a strong finisher at the rim and I feel much more comfortable in the offensive game with Semih standing there than, say, Jermaine or Perk.

        Defensively is a different beast which he's learning. Yet he consistently has two or so blocks per game, plus alters shots. He's got a knack for it that I think will be huge once he figures out the defensive side.

        I see him improving much quicker than people think. I mean, he has been playing Euro pro ball for a few years now. Besides, it's fun seeing a tall white guy fly in for a dunk, despite barely having any ups. :-)

  • Nathan

    Has anybody seen this article? http://espn.go.com/blog/chicago/bulls/post/_/id/2

    I would be a lot less worried about the Bulls if they actually decided to sign Rasheed Wallace. He's bound to be in even worse shape now than during the regular season last year. I really hope they sign him, just because it'd be so fun to watch all the team chemistry in Chicago go up in flames.

  • Jim

    I am a Nate fan but he certainly tends to make his share of bonehead plays . Tonight he was not the second coming of Rondo but all in all I will take him over Eddie House any day of the week. Nate is young and he will learn as we all do from his mistakes. All of the Celtics players make bonehead plays sometimes it is part of being human. i think Doc will handle Nate just give him time.

  • The real GREENMAN

    you forgot to mention when Nate goated Horford into a Technical Foul.

  • http://www.anaheimamigos.com Anaheim Amigos

    I don't want to be a Nate apologist, but the Celtics don't have a lot of other options at this point. With Rondo and West out, it has to be Nate. I think we clearly saw that Bradley is nowhere near ready at this point. Teague drank his milkshake last night. And Jim above is right, he is more effective that Eddie House because of his athleticism and ability to pressure the ball. He just needs to work on the pick-and-roll — even when KG is his partner in defending the pick-and-roll, he manages to botch it quite a bit.

    (Now here is the apologist part.) After watching Rondo run the offense for so long, it is nice to see the PG take a jump shot in rhythm. Rondo looks pass, looks pass, and then finally realizes the defense is playing the other starters 4-on-5. So he hesitantly raises up for a jump shot, and the whole thing looks too slow, too unsure. Nate, obviously, has no such qualms and is a good shooter. Sometimes it's too early in the shot clock or it negates a fast break, but the shots are confident, accurate shots.

  • Jamie

    I'm not that worried about Nate's play because when West comes back they're going to move Nate off the ball, and that is really where he can best benefit the 2nd unit. Nate's trying his best in the facilitator role, and he's doing better then when we got him last season, but it's just not who he is as a basketball player.
    The best thing they can do for Bradley when Shaq, JO, West etc comes back is let him get lots of minutes in the D league. He just does not look comfortable handling the ball on the offensive end. Defensively he can hang.

  • john schaffer

    nate is a lot better than eddie house for sure . better shooter for sure and nate will play defense all house is good for is to shoot

    • TedL

      Indeed. Also – Eddie House isn't exactly a guy who's able to break a guy down on defense or get to the rim.

  • Kel

    Great post, love the pic of jack. Nate being Nate thats really all I have to say about that. Rondo is so good at running the offense it makes Nate look that bad. Made me (and Ray) appreciate those one handed laser passes that Rondo throws to Ray coming off screens.

    Big Baby should be top consideration for 6th man of the year. Without him I think we'd have at least 3 or 4 more losses. Everyone doing what we all know they can do, but Baby is the difference this year.

  • ElRoz

    Hmmm….start Marquis at the point and bring Nate off the bench? But then they'll have Nate at the point again. Pierce and Allen sharing the "pointguard" duties could be tolerable.
    I know this might sound somewhat insane, but what if the starters had Von Wafer with them…then Marquis and Nate could come off the bench?

  • roundo

    Here is a slideshow with five reasons why every team should want someone like Nate (only one has to do with playing basketball): http://bleacherreport.com/articles/545642-5-reaso

  • CG12

    Couldn't agree more, as to both. He needs to chin the ball when securing rebounds and go stronger to the rim when not dunking. He seems to only take open dunks or soft hooks. For a non-entity "why the heck not" draft pick that no one envisioned playing meaningful minutes to be making material contributions is pretty sweet.

    I continue to believe that Semih will be a valuable player for the Cs and will improve substantially. Thank goodness he is not Kwame Brown, who didn't lift weights for years because he was already "country strong." Doofus.

  • Green Man

    While the o'neals and perk are still out, how bout signing a couple of free agent big guys to a 10-day contract? Might give celts a better option in the PF/C backups than Harangody…

  • Mark Zanger

    I was at that game, and thought the Hawks lost it in the third period when they set up two consecutive isolation plays for Al Horford against Kevin Garnett, and Horford worked both of them really hard, and didn't score on either one. Time out by Atlanta. Now if John Drew wants to establish his team as a power in the East, and Al Horford wants to be a major star, they come out of the time out and call the same two plays again. You keep sending your best young player against their best old player until something breaks. I don't know if Drew flinched or Horford flinched, but after that they started trading baskets, and Atlanta just doesn't have enough shooters with Joe Johnson out to trade baskets with the Celtics.

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