Here’s an awesome video from directly after Game 4. It delivers on two fronts. First, in your bottom-right corner, Doc playfully screams at KG for waiting four games to score 26 points. He really sells his fake anger. It’s terrifying.
But after that, and more importantly, KG gorgeously articulates what he believes to be his role on the team: “My job is to get Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo open.” He says some other nice stuff too, but that line, the one he starts with, is what we’re going to focus on. Because for the first two games of this series, KG and the rest of the Celtics forgot that job.
Here’s the most common set play for the Celtics in Games 1 and 2: Rondo brings the ball up and his teammates A) spread themselves evenly around the court and B) grow roots. They’d form green constellations, just hanging out in their spots and waiting for Rondo to either drive or get them the ball for an iso. This kind of half-play actually worked a few times: Rondo would blow past whatever schmo was guarding him and, when the Knicks converged on him, he’d find an open man. Just as often he’d get the ball to one of his teammates to beat their guy off the dribble.
But the offense in those first two games was objectively awful and, worse, didn’t look like the Celtics. Frantic movement and screens on and off the ball used to be standards of the Celtics offense, integral to the team’s focus on getting a lot of high-percentage oportunidades (Spanish for “shots”).
Finally, at last, when they went on the road, the Celtics discovered that picks are the key to beating the Knicks, in particular Amare Stoudemire. Amare loses his mind every time a pick goes down. Much like a butterfly flapping its wings in South America can affect the weather in Central Park, a pick being set anywhere in the world will confuse Amare Stoudemire. After the jump, enjoy video of Amare Stoudemire being totally dismantled by basketball’s most basic play.
Look how long it takes Amare to register that Shawne Williams has been vaporized by KG and that Paul Pierce is completely open under the basket. He does not acknowledge this fact until he gets a major clue in the form of Pierce getting the ball, and then he springs into action as Pierce daintily lays it in five feet away. You may be wondering how to ever stop watching this hilarious video, and my answer is I don’t know.
Speaking of hilarious jokes, observe these two identical plays. They’re just your basic pick-and-pops, and they occurred within two minutes of each other, but the Knicks are completely bewildered by them.
It’s unbelievable how well this play works, and it’s completely unbelievable that it works again two minutes later. Very casual pickup players run this exact play. The Knicks should know how to defend it. Both times, Carter gets iced out on a KG pick, and Rondo literally skips around under the basket, knowing that Carter’s going to scamper over off KG and that Amare’s not going anywhere, leaving KG completely open. I promise you those are two different plays. They just look the same because when the second one happens, nobody has learned anything from the first one.
As well as the screens worked, the Celtics gameplanners had their reasons for encouraging the iso in the early games. Here are some:
- After he brings the ball up, there is generally nobody within ten feet of Rajon Rondo to set a pick on.
- The Knicks on-ball defenders are, without exception, terrible. Fine: Shawne Williams isn’t terrible, but he definitely isn’t good.
- Doc Rivers, as he threatened to do after the trade deadline, has been allocating heavy minutes to lineups with KG at center and Jeff Green at power forward. Nobody has any idea what to do when this happens.
Unfortunately, you can’t mentally tear apart the Miami Heat with pick-and-rolls like you can with the Knicks. But they certainly don’t hurt. Down the stretch, the Heat actually had some trouble coordinating their defense around screens. If nothing else, you can get Mike Bibby to switch onto somebody, and then get that person the ball immediately.
But the biggest reason is that picks represent recognizable Celtics basketball. From this point on, we don’t want to see anything else.