Celtics-Knicks. Game two.
Let’s talk about the second last New York possession. You can watch it right here:
After Paul Pierce drives the lane and feeds Kevin Garnett for a dunk to put the Celtics up 92-21, the Knicks inbound the ball with 1:14 left on the clock. They bring the ball up, find Carmelo Anthony on the wing and Glen Davis rushes over to double him. Anthony fires the ball cross court to Roger Mason but Ray Allen closes hard and pins him behind the three-point line.
The clock ticks down… 9 seconds, 8 seconds….
Mason tries to find Toney Douglas but Rajon Rondo’s all over him, cutting off the passing lane.
The clock reaches 6 seconds, then 5, and Mason finally releases a tough three-ball. It catches the front of the rim, Rondo tips it — and the Knicks recover.
After a timeout, the Knicks take their second crack at it.
Douglas feeds Anthony the ball in the pinch post, and Davis again swarms in for the double. Davis’ cover, Jared Jeffries is briefly left alone under the basket but Garnett and Allen hedge towards him to deter an Anthony pass. Melo again swings the ball to Mason on the wing, but this time, Allen, because he was protecting the rim, is late to close. Mason drives past him, lays the ball up — and misses again.
The Knicks tip the rebound out and shuttle the ball back to Anthony at the top of the arc.
Davis rushes out to double for the third time. Melo passes to Douglas who tries to take Rondo off the dribble. But Rondo stays in front of him on the baseline and forces him back along the arc. Meanwhile, Jeffries has come up to set a pick, with Davis in tow, and Douglas hands him the ball. Davis is overplaying Jeffries (for reasons unclear) leaving him a clear lane to the basket. Garnett closes from the weakside and tries to force the miss, but Jeffries lays the ball in for a 93-92 Knicks lead.
Time remaining: 19.3 seconds.
The Celtics have just played largely excellent defense for 55 seconds and come out with nothing to show for it. Davis let Jeffries get by him on that final move but overall he did a great job doubling Melo and recovering. Rondo twice cut off offensive options. Pierce was draped all over Anthony. Allen had a great closeout that forced a bad shot. There were gaps, like Garnett failing to stop the eminently stoppable Jeffries (ESPN Scouting Report: Weak in every facet offensively, with special penchant for missing layups) but the real problem is those offensive rebounds.
The Knicks are a tuurrible offensive rebounding team. They were 24th in the league during the regular season. But in game one, the Knicks had an ORR of 31.0 (for 13 total offensive rebounds). In game two, it got far worse for the Celtics: the Knicks had an ORR of 41.7 (for 20 total offensive rebounds) despite a prolonged absence from Amare Stoudemire.
To summarize: Boston is not taking care of its defensive glass. At all.
The impacts aren’t limited to the defensive end. Yes, all those second chances put enormous pressure on the Boston defense, but they also keep Rondo out of transition, hampering the middling Boston offense. It’s hard to say which problem is more acute. Either could undo the Celtics’ championship hopes. Hell, either could undo the Celtics’ Eastern Conference Semi-finals hopes.
Project this kind of poor defensive rebounding forward to a second round series against Miami, and you can see why getting clean stops (one shot and out) is going to be critical. Pierce and Allen are going to expend a ton of energy checking Lebron James and Dwayne Wade. You can’t expect them to have anything left on offense if they regularly have to spend 24 seconds + 24 seconds guarding two of the most dangerous offensive players in the league.
Beyond the return and continued good health of Shaquille O’Neal, the Celtics probably need a couple of things to happen:
1) Gang Rebounding. Garnett is a superb defensive rebounder but the other bigs aren’t. Davis is below average at the PF spot, and terrible at the 5-spot. Green is a poor rebounder, period. Pierce is expending too much energy on Melo and on offense to expect significant rebounding gains. We’re still dealing with small sample sizes for Jermaine O’Neal but so far, he’s comparable to Semih Erden and Nenad Krstic. What’s left? Rondo can’t get ten boards every night. Basically, everyone is going to have to up their efforts and energy boxing out and clearing the glass.
2) More From Jeff Green. Hayes touched on this in his game two recap. Green has to make a much more substantial contribution. Besides upping his game on the boards, Green has to defend and score well enough to keep Pierce from logging the 45 minutes he did last night. And then Doc Rivers has to trust him enough to keep Pierce on the bench. This is why Green’s in Boston, right? To keep Pierce fresh. Right?
Instructive: Boston’s path to the finals (probably) looks like this (offensive rebounding rankings in parentheses):
New York (24th), Miami (19th), Chicago (4th), Los Angeles (5th).
It’s only going to get harder to keep teams off the glass.
What happened last night can’t continue or the C’s are headed for an early round exit.