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Can’t Score, Can’t Win: Celtics-Heat Game Two Recap

 

A conclusion based on Tuesday night’s 102-91 loss to the Miami Heat: this Celtics’ offense is built for the regular season, not the playoffs, and all the ball movement and ubuntu in the world isn’t going to change that. Against a fierce Heat defense, every failing in Boston’s offensive architecture is suddenly threatening to bring the whole structure crashing down.

The Celtics don’t have a consistent post threat (a la Zach Randolph or Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum), nor a lethal off-the-dribble scorer (a la Derrick Rose or Dwayne Wade), nor a shooting freak who can get his shot off in ISO situations against length (a la Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin Durant).

In fact, absent Shaquille O’Neal and save for the rare stretches where the C’s gather in a batch of offensive rebounds, this offense is basically composed of jumpshots, or, at its most efficient, guys getting open underneath the basket as a result of multiple passes or a Rajon Rondo drive (often in transition).

The lower-pressure regular season disguised this flaw, in part because the Celtics routinely got wide open layups and wide open jumpshots because opposing teams wouldn’t put in the effort necessary to contest them.

Things have changed. The Miami Heat are contesting. They are positively contesty.

Result #1: a Celtics team that was fourth in the league finishing at the rim during the regular season (67%) is, for the first two games, shooting at 51% (23-45). This includes a 14-27 mark in game two, which included the following individual tallies:

  • Rajon Rondo 6-7
  • Paul Pierce 3-4
  • Ray Allen 1-4
  • Glen Davis 1-4
  • Kevin Garnett 1-2
  • Jeff Green 2-3
  • Jermaine O’Neal 0-3

Result #2: a Celtics team that was fifth in the league from the mid-range (40.9%) is, for the first two games, shooting at 28% (9-32). This includes a 5-22 mark in game two, with special delivery stinkbombs from Garnett (2-9) and Rondo (0-5).

It’s not just the stat geekery that paints a bleak picture. It’s Doc Rivers, who for the second game in a row, accepted blame for failing to get the right shots for the right people. After game one, we heard about how Boston needed more post touches. After game two, Rivers lamented the stretch that followed the 80-80 score, where Miami reeled off 14 straight points. Jackie MacMullan writing at ESPN Boston:

The momentum, it seemed, might just be swinging toward the men in green — until the Heat instantly ripped off a 14-0 run to put the game out of reach.

That burst included four trips to the line as well as a 3-point play for LeBron when he slipped in and followed up an errant Wade jumper with an offensive slam. It started when the Celtics’ defense converged on a driving Wade, who kicked it out to a wide open Mario Chalmers for an uncontested 3-pointer.

“See now, that can’t happen,” Garnett scowled.

Boston’s offensive possessions during Miami’s run included back-to-back Glen Davis isolations that came up short, an Allen trey that rolled in and out, a Jermaine O’Neal offering that was rejected by Joel Anthony, a KG jumper that rattled around and out, and a perimeter jumper from Rondo that wasn’t even close.

But rather than ponder the reality that Doc is being outcoached by Erik Spoelstra, ask yourself what this was all about:

Pierce may have been lecturing Rondo on something completely unrelated to the slodgy offense but whatever it was, Rondo wanted no part of it. This bit of dissension is indicative of the way Miami has bullied this Celtics team into the self-doubt that goes along with an 0-2 series deficit, something this C’s core had yet to come up against until last night. All of a sudden, Boston looks like the mentally fragile team while Miami looks like the group that’s ready to push the Celtics down the mountain and plant their own flag in the snowcap.

Or to put it more bluntly, Miami is the new Boston. At least right now.

It’s hard to take any solace in the idea that all Miami has done is hold serve. That’s starry-eyed, at best. What Miami has done, besides force the Celtics to win 4 of the next 5 to stay alive in the playoffs, is demonstrate they have the two best players in the series, that Chris Bosh can play Garnett to a draw and that Rondo can be slowed up and controlled.

All of which leaves us with a batch of questions to ponder over the next few days:

  • Can Shaq’s return do enough to change the course of this series?
  • Is Rondo going to step up and dominate this series the way we would expect from “the best point guard in the NBA”?
  • Will the Paul Pierce that closed out the regular season so aggressively please step up?
  • Will Kevin Garnett ever attempt a free throw (he’s now played 74 minutes against Miami without attempting even one)?
  • Is Glen Davis playing himself into a veteran minimum contract? (mostly kidding).

QUICK HITS

  • The offense was bad, to be sure, but the defense was even worse. Miami put up a 114.6 offensive efficiency rating. Boston has to be close to perfect, rotationally speaking, to stop both Wade and Lebron James (35 points, 7 rebounds) from creating shots and so far, it’s not happening. It’s a far more correctable problem than the offense, but it’s not a given especially because guys like Green, who had a nice little first half on offense, still gets lost far too often on D. At what point does his Basketball IQ come into question?
  • Injuries: Pierce is day-to-day with a strained achilles, Rondo was battling a stiff back, and Allen had a bruised chest. Of the three, Pierce’s injury seems the worst but he’s got plenty of time to get ready for Saturday night’s all-but-must-win game three.
  • While the C’s were getting Rondo, Pierce and Allen mended, Rivers leaned heavily on his bench in the second quarter, and for once, they didn’t disappoint him. Delonte West stepped into all four of his jumpshots and knocked all four down. Perhaps he’s coming out of his recent funk.
  • Dan

    Whose quote? Rondo's most certainly not the best PG in the NBA.

    • Herb

      It was actually Rondo who said it.

    • Batman

      It doesn't help that the media kept saying he was after last year……

      • I_Bleed_Green

        Is this exactly what “overrated” means?

  • Sauce

    Ah, your right I think we do need to be almost perfect to beat this team, we can score but consistency is looking a problem, something needs to change and it doesn't look like it'll involve the Heat playing badly, we can do a far better job that this even if it doesn't win us everything we can do a lot more

  • Renato Afonso

    Ryan,

    I don't think you hit the point on two important things. For one, there was nothing wrong with the way the Celtics played defense. The scheme was perfect to stop dribble penetration as they often switched into some sort of 2-3 zone has the ball was being switch around the perimeter. Obviously this can only be done until the opponent starts hitting those 45º 3-ball consistently. But back to the subject in hand… You have to give credit when it's due and Lebron dominated to day. If his jumper is falling there's nothing you can do but try to deny him the ball, but since he is bringing the ball upcourt, you just have to play your best and hope he misses.

    And the second thing: Rondo. After watching that clip and I remember seeing it during the game, he simply cannot do that. There's no player I hate more than Paul Pierce (wheelchair, best player in the world thing, arrogance, etc.) but he has four things over Rondo: experience, basketball IQ, ability to knock down shots (FT's) and willingness to improve through hard work. This is one of the most pivotal games in the season and you're turning your back on a teammate who's telling you things to help the team? Whatever Pierce was saying it concerned the game and it was in Rondo's best interest to hear it. If he didn't agree then he could talk back and explain his point of view. That's what you do even if you don't particularly like that teammate.

    And I hate to disrespect Celtics' fans by talking this way about one of their players (since I also don't appreciate when someone talks bad about on of my Lakers), but what's the problem with Rondo? How can some fans say that he is the best point guard in the league? He may be a good fit on this team but he is playing alongside 3 guys who need to be closely guarded at all times, and that's when they don't command a doubleteam. His stats are naturally inflated by playing alongside those three guys and due to the system. He holds the ball for 15 to 20 secondes each time which obviously inflates assists. No knock on his steals and rebound numbers, which are his merit alone. But for someone with the nerve to turn his back on Pierce I would expect him to actually score more. Bibby (who is 137 y.o. going on 250 fast) is giving him the Kobe treatment and matching his production at PG. You are not a top 5 PG in this league until you knock down your FT's and command respect in the half-court. How can a PG hold his dribble at the FT line with everyone 4 to 6 feet away from him and not hit the jumper? And I'm not saying to try, I'm actually speaking about knocking it down. No other PG in the league is treated like this and I'm very curious to see what his game and stat line will be like when the big 3 retire.

    Pardon me for being so blunt but I hate it when someone has all the pysical tools to be great, is paid millions to achieve just that and then, for some reason, stagnates. Why are all other PG's around his age actually improving in several areas of their game and Rondo is not? Not even Derek Fisher, who is widely (and rightfully so) considered the worst starting PG in the league, gets that much room on the half court.

    KG was widely ineffective mostly because of Rondo. You cannot get proper isolation to go 1-on-1 if one of the paths to the rim his cut by Rondo's primary defender (who is obviously sagging off him). The "start your offense inside" thing works if all other players are respected when they are on the floor. Allen's defender will (try) not leave him alone anywhere. Same for Pierce's. But Rondo's? Hey, that guy does not need to go much further than the painted area…

    My fix for the Celtics against the Heat? Cut down Rondo's and Big Baby's minutes. Play the inside-out offense you were trying to implement and whenever the Heat go small get the following lineup on the floor asap: Delonte, Allen, Pierce, KG, Krstic (or Green if one of the big 3 needs to rest). Yes, it's a lineup with defensive liabilities but you don't have the roster to run with the Heat when they are doing it. You cannot stop Lebron and Wade when they have games like these first two, but you can match their offensive production. Feed the ball to KG, spread the floor with the help of some double screens on the opposite side to Ray Allen and watch KG go back to his assist numbers from his Minny days. Krstic can hit anything near the paint if his opponent sags off. Pierce, Allen and Delonte will knock down the open jumper and Green, if in play, would be excellent at curling towards the rim from the opposite side with the help of a screen or two (layups, FT, whatever he could get…).

    I will now poke my eyes out after trying to do my best to help the Celtics (let me believe that Doc reads this blog)…

    • Scott

      Gahhhh… Too long of a post. And it wasnt worth reading because u said the defense was good last night. What game did you watch? Wade and lebron did WHATEVER they wanted. Literally. If they didn’t get the basket, they were fouled. If they weren’t fouled they got the o-rbnd and scored. And if neither of those happened, it was a miracle. This game sucked, and I’m not sure we have enough to get past miami anymore.

      Doc needs to step up.
      KG needs to step up.
      Ray needs touches.
      Rondo is a bitch.
      PP…. Needs to come to the game.
      Green needs to remember that he plays in the NBA
      Davis should retire after this season (mostly serious)

      • Renato Afonso

        I said the defensive scheme was perfect to stop dribble penetration. I'm not saying they had success on preventing it. There's no X's and O's that need to be changed in order to fix the D. It comes down to individual prowess by both the Celtics and the Heat.

        • scott

          actually… you said: "For one, there was nothing wrong with the way the Celtics played defense."

          so you are contradicting yourself. There was nothing wrong with the way they played defense, means they had success preventing it. Which they didnt… but you said they did, right after you said they didnt.

          • Renato Afonso

            True. Mistakes that happen when one speaks a foreign language as you are not able to properly transmit implied thoughts. I meant saying that there was nothing wrong witht the way they played defense from a tactical point of view. But like it or not, in today's rules it's almost impossible to prevent some player to catch fire and while doing everything they could do tactically, they're just physically overmatched at the wings…

    • I_Bleed_Green

      Thank God for your unbiased comments on Rondo. It is really sad that all the celtic fans (and writers) still think he is elite. If you put Rondo on any other team he would be an average pg at best. He is fortunate enough to be surrounded by so many shot-makers. His game relies on other people to make shots and when they are not, he is pretty much useless. I am not even going to talk about his attitude problem.

      • scott

        i call it like i see it. i just dont understand why everyone thinks Rondo is so elite. in order to be elite, you have to be consistent. He was medium consistent against the Knicks.. and now he looks so bored out there its pathetic. Doc said before this series, we cannot walk the ball up the court and take ten seconds to start our sets. i agree. The less time miami has to get into their defense, the better. This does not mean we have to play up tempo, running up and down all the time. it means we need to start our offense EARLIER, but all RONDO wants to do is walk up and down the whole game. He'll have a great game on Saturday, and look like a savior and everyone will think he's back, and then he'll disappear for game four and we'll be down 3-1. Woopdee fuck**g doo.

  • Jon

    Here's my take on the game (not like you care)

    I believe that the starters need to play better. Pierce hasn't been a factor for the 2nd game. Rondo Ray and Garnett need to get on the same page and figure this thing out. I hear alot about how the bench is underachieving but when someone on the bench is going off (Jeff) why not keep going to him while he's hot. When pierce when out hurt Jeff was scoring all over the place. Why not keep riding him to he misses a few or gets tired. I think he is a matchup problem for the heat.

    I also think since Doc knows how more athletic the Heat are he has to do a better job of matching up. When the Heat go small and JO is out on the floor who ever is checking him don't have to do much on Defense because he is not a threat. I think when they go small it needs to be Rondo, Ray, Pierce, Jeff, and Garnett. The reason i say Jeff instead of BBD because Jeff stretches the defense out to the 3pt line which gives Garnett more space and Rondo more lanes to the basket. I think we can still win the two games at home

  • http://www.nba.com Thomas Adewumi

    dude
    u got their problems figured out if only they could see it

  • WTF

    Why are we beating the dead horse again and again? The Celtics window is closed, we are done for now. Plain and simple: the big three are old and slow, Rondo is mostly ineffective against Miami in this round and the most glaring fact is Doc Rivers does not know how to adjust his game plan on the fly responding to the live game situations. So here we are, staring at a 0-2 hole and hoping we'll win at least one game at home to delay the inevitable end of the big three era.

    • WTF

      and of course the injury to Shaq…

  • ElRoz

    They need to punish Miam physically – inside…Shaq would need to be there, KG would need to go inside and post up – for that I agree that Delonte might need to be in, instead of Rondo to prevent easy double-teams, and Green would need to get more playing time so he can drive in towards the basket like he did a few times last night….I even say let's try to get JO to go in and bang inside a bit on offense – with or wthout the ball.

  • Batman

    Ehhhh scratch the "all star at worst" thats giving him to much credit, very good PG at worst is better

  • Batman

    Also its directed at I_Bleed_Green (and I irrationally hate on Rondo)

    • Stephen

      Too bad I can't sent it directly to Rondo.

  • Morpheus

    Totally agree with everything Afonso said.

    I actually missed that Rondo turning his back on our captain shot, but no way should Rondo be turning his back on Pierce like that.

  • Batman

    Whoa, nice passion
    thumbs up
    Rondo needs a wake up call

  • Gaucho

    Wow what fair weather Rondo fans. Rondo went 7/16 FG and 6/8 from the free throw line and had a team high 20 points for the game. None of you know what was said by Pierce yet you all blame Rondo? He's a phenomenal point guard and probably the best defensively in the NBA. In the third Miami game of the season he was guarding LeBron and as Perkins said, that was the first time he's seen LeBron have the ball with his back to the basket, he was so worried about Rondo. Name another PG who can do this to LeBron. The Celtics win the next two and we go back to Miami and steal that one. I think there's a change in the weather.

    • stephen

      First of all, it's not Rondo's job to have a team high in points. Secondly, it doesn't matter what PP instructions to Rondo were. Pierce is a HOF player and Rondo needs to shut his mouth and listen. Period. Next—-Rondo is a good point guard when he is focused, but hardly phenomenal. Best defensively ? Prove it. In this series!!!!!! —We don't win squat until Rondo gets his head out of his ass and puts the team first rather then going off on his own agenda.

      • Gaucho

        But you have no idea what Pierce said to him or even if there was a controversy. So it does matter. You're just looking to blame based on some TV commentator's interpretation? Rondo had 12 assist in the game. Team first huh? You lack clarity of thinking. 6 rebounds too. Suppose rebounding is not his job either?? Block shots? Miami 9 Celtics 3. Who's job is that? Rondo's? It's not your job to tell Rondo what to do (thank the heavens) so you need to get your head out of your ass and quit being a fair weathered fan.

        • stephen

          Like I said. Paul Pierce—Hall of Fame– Rondo– Good point guard, when he is focused, but not Hall of Fame material. Pierce talks–Rondo listens—KG talks–Rondo listens–Ray talks–Rondo listens, Are you starting to get the picture? I've probably been a C's fan before you were even shitting your diaper. Yes, I clearly understand that it is not my job to tell Rondo what to do since I'm not actually on the court with him —You fucking moron !!!!! —- I need to get my head out of my ass?

          • Gaucho

            What about the block shots? Glaring stat, yet you still focus on a TV commentators comments about an argument. Your incapable of original perceptive analysis. Pretending that you have some right to tell who get's to speak on a team and who doesn't. Rondo can evaluate weather his teammates are saying something smart or not. I know they think so. Warren Buffet says that when he goes to a board meeting and sees everyone agreeing with the boss that he knows the company is not worth investing in right away. Please take your hall of fame hierarchy and your I'm a bigger fan than you BS & put it where your head belongs. Thank you.

          • Stephen

            I tried to reason with you, however I can see that it is futile, It is clear that you have an ''extreme admiration for ignorance''. Discussion over.

  • http://www.KingsCountyBoston.com Carl Dervil

    My name is Carl Dervil. The message is simple. There is no way the Celtics will let Lebron take this from them. I feel so passionately about Lebron not winning that I have created my own T-shirt line. My web site is http://www.KingsCountyBoston.com. I was wondering if you guys can help me blow this thing wide open by having Celtics Nation wear the T-shirts when Miami comes to town. Remember “Not all kings are fit to rule”

  • Brandon

    Renato, absolutely a pleasure to read your comments which are detailed and well-founded.
    —-
    I don't know if you are completely right about Rondo. He is an oddball: fast, good disher, excellent rebounder (at 6' 1" 175 lb), and ring leader, and has been largely successful for the last four years with the "big 3" era. a guy who could get you a 30 point game, a 20 assist game, a 7 steal game, a 15 rebound game, whose record as quarterback with this crew is remarkable. He clearly has something that is special (besides huge hands). His outside shooting has improved some, foul shots not really.
    —-
    He is not having his best season, and this could well be due to that he has for the first time suffered number of injuries, missing 14 regular season games, and playing many games with nagging injuries, averaging 40 minutes a game. C's first choice back-up point was West who was out most of the season, and Nate Robinson didn't fill in well. Still Doc should have spread minutes more judiciously.

  • Brandon

    Renato, Perhaps your best words are about working the lineup of West, Pierce, Allen, Garnett, and Krstic. I have long bewailed Doc's parochial lineup(s), not realizing he might get energy from some other areas. Krstic *(he was a starting center wasn't he?) does score; Green (when trusted) is a scorer. Wafer is an athlete, a rarity in the C's lineup. I still think Jermaine O'Neal earns his stripes when he's on the floor.
    —-
    Boston hasn't played to its capacity. You wonder if the long injury-sodden campaign this year has left this club flat. What would have happened if Shaq and JO and Marquis Daniels stayed healthy? Finally, Bynum's one-point landing on Kendrick Perkins last June might end up being the coup de gras to this season as well.

  • rob

    Rajon Rondo Calls Derrick Rose "A Crappy Point Guard" see it on youtube ,, guess who is MVP ./// Rondo is such a knucklehead

    • Batman

      Uh what? I don't know if he actually said that or not but it was probably in the beginning of the year when Rondo was definitely at least 2x better than Rose

  • morey

    i hate to admit it but that trade killed us, teams are not afraid of our front line anymore, even Nate would have helped now,

    • Batman

      Jesus Christ…..

  • Gaucho

    As opposed to some fair weathered Rondo fans: at least his opponent know how good this guy is.

    {LeBron James compares Rajon Rondo to Barry Sanders

    By Ira Winderman South Florida Sun Sentinel

    5:46 p.m. EDT, May 5, 2011
    MIAMI—
    LeBron James said Thursday that Rajon Rondo is no Derrick Rose. He meant it as a compliment.

    That became evident moments later when the Miami Heat forward compared the Celtics point guard to NFL legend Barry Sanders.

    Asked to define what it takes to at least attempt to defend Rondo, James said it is an experience that transcends typical NBA defense.

    "For a point guard like Rondo there's not many plays," James said. "It's crazy. He doesn't get many plays called for him, but he makes all the right plays, if that makes any sense.

    "There's a lot of point guards, like Derrick Rose, he gets a lot of plays called for him, a lot of pick-and-roll sets, he comes off pin-downs or floppy actions. But Rondo, he's either running pick-and-rolls, or he's improvising on the break."

    That makes it more about defending the player than defending the play.

    "So you always have to know when he has the ball there's always the possibility or a chance that he can attack the rim, get it to the rim, try to get the defense into the paint," James said after Thursday's practice at AmericanAirlines Arena.

    Despite dealing with a balky back, Rondo went for 20 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in Tuesday's 102-91 loss to the Heat, a loss that dropped the Celtics to 0-2 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series that continues Saturday at TD Garden.

    Essentially, James said Rondo is shifty. He meant that in a good way, in an NFL Hall of Fame way.

    "You try to meet him before he gets his speed up," James said. "But you don't want to be up on him too much because he's so fast. He'll run around anybody in this league. You have to be aggressive but you also have to be smart.

    "He's like Barry Sanders. You wouldn't want to run up on him all crazy in the backfield back in the day, either. He'll spin you around and get a touchdown. So you've got to be smart with it."

    iwinderman@tribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat.

    • Batman

      Calm down we all love Rondo
      especially me
      But you have to remember that its hard for fans to support a player who is the best scapegoat for our troubles
      look at Pau Gasol: He is LA's most important player and when the lakers lose who gets blamed regardless? Pau
      good passion for Rondo though

    • Batman

      Also he is to blame for a lot of stuff this series

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