Our friends over at ESPN Boston are praising Boston’s Post Season fourth quarter offensive execution. No real argument here. But that’s expected from this team and this coach. We have all witnessed the brilliance of the Celtics’ ability to close out games. Doc Rivers draws up the plays and the Cs go out and execute more often than they don’t. These are the moments that define this team. The inbounds alley-oop to Rajon Rondo to beat the Miami Heat. The Pick-and-Roll with Kevin Garnett to take down Philadelphia. The pick-and-fade cut by Ray Allen for three against the Magic. And now the two most recent ones with another Allen fade cut for three and another inbounds alley-oop only this time with KG.
This, however, should not be the hot button issue. These are to be expected, albeit with teams that should actually be giving the Celtics the chances for late game heroics. What gets lost is that these instances of late game execution are begotten from a failure to execute prior. There is plenty of blame to go around and admittedly most of the Celtics’ mid-game execution problems are not for lack of good opportunities, but more from a failure to finish the actual shot/layup/dunk. That said, there was one glaring two minute stretch in Game 2 that really got me scared. Check the game log below:
1:15 63-72 Paul Pierce makes 16-foot jumper (Delonte West assists)
0:44 63-74 Paul Pierce makes 16-foot two point shot
0:15 65-74 Paul Pierce misses 19-foot jumper
11:42 67-74 Paul Pierce misses 19-foot jumper
11:00 70-76 Paul Pierce makes 13-foot jumper
Notice anything? I want to make a scary clarification: the only things that were edited from this sequence in the play-by-play were the Knicks’ possessions and anything that did not result in a Celtic make or miss. In other words, in the two minutes that wrapped the third and fourth quarters of Game 2, Paul Pierce was directly involved in the Celtics five successive scoring opportunities.
The numbers say he was 3-for-5. Not bad. Over 50%. But let’s contextualize this a little bit with lo-def video!
Pierce basically gets into a shoot out with Carmelo Anthony. What makes this situation worse is that at the start of this showdown, the Celtics had a 9 point lead that was largely built by the ball movement in the half-court and getting good shots (something they have struggled to do all year). The game was tied with 5:24 left in the third quarter and over the next four and a quarter minutes the Celtics built the lead to nine. Ray Allen hit a three, Rajon Rondo made a layup, Jeff Green hit a three, and Pierce hit two jumpers and a technical free throw.
At the end of this sequence, the Celtics had a 6 point lead and all of the ball movement/offensive mojo they accrued during that run had completely unraveled. When I saw this happen LIVE, I remember thinking this was way too early for the Celtics to start handing it off to Pierce in isolation plays. It’s almost as if the Celtics expected the Knicks offense to be unsustainable without another capable scorer to go alongside Anthony. The only problem is that no one told Anthony. Or maybe someone did tell him and it pissed him off because dude WENT OFF.
Let us not forget what ESPN TrueHoop TVer Chris Palmer wrote about a hypothetical Pierce and Anthony head-to-head:
The fact that Paul Pierce’s game does not call for this kind of stuff the same way ‘Melo’s is exactly what makes him so valuable.
I understand that these were two minutes to close and start a quarter, and Pierce did make the majority of these shots, but the Celtics a far less successful when they run isolation plays. They are also far less effective when they assume the Knicks will roll over.
They have also been only slightly above average in the playoffs in terms of offensive efficiency (106 points per 100 possessions, which would have put them 10th in the league during the regular season). In Game 2, they were terrible with 98.9 points per 100 possessions (would have been worst in the league in the regular season). It’s a small sample size, but no team should be this inefficient against the Knicks.*
I am not sure how the Celtics can go about fixing these offensive issues that seem to have been institutional from the get-go this season. All I do know is that they will need to figure out something quick if they want this series to be over as fast as possible. Or they can narrowly squeak by the next two games and be vastly unprepared for either the Sixers or the Heat.