“If you feel discouraged/ That there’s a lack of [execution] here”
As you may remember, CelticsHub was at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference a little over a week ago. If you’re not familiar, “Sloan” is a time of year where brain power exceeds capacity in a Boston Convention center. The conference oozes with some really smart people doing some really interesting things with statistics. It’s too bad that the Celtics didn’t play the Lakers for the second time prior to last week. If they had, I could have totally asked one of those MIT Brainiacs to calculate the probability that the Celtics would totally choke away the final minutes of both games; specifically, in regards to the breakdown of execution.
While watching last night’s fourth quarter play out, if you weren’t reminded of the horror that occurred at the TDGarden on February 9th, you either had a few too many adult beverages or you just weren’t paying attention. In case you’ve completely repressed both instances of endgame offensive ineptitude, behold, a window to your subconscious:
That was February 9th. A moment where everyone in Boston collectively threw up their hands and said, “what is with this inefficient hero ball? Enough with the Paul Pierce isolations. Run something with multiple options! Not just one fade cut from Ray Allen behind a KG screen. If we knew that was coming then it’s pretty obvious the Lakers knew it too.” Seriously, the rhythmic chanting at the TDGarden was really eery (albeit kind of cool).
Fast forward to last night’s game, and the Celtics find themselves in a similar situation. Down three with 15 seconds to go, the C’s knew they couldn’t make the same mistake they made back on February 9th. If a passing lane was obstructed, there were going to be other options. In case you decided to take a nap or start that weekend project you’ve been putting off (the shelves look great, by the way) as the fourth quarter started, here’s how those last 15 seconds played out:
As you can see, the play was for Ray again. Brandon Bass picks down on Ray’s man in the hopes of freeing Ray for three. The Lakers, the good team that they are, just switch the pick. It’s simple and completely nullifies any Celtic advantage. The Lakers now have Bass’ guy on Ray (length on a shooter) and Derek Fisher guarding Bass. Since the C’s are down by three, who cares if Bass can shoot over Derek Fisher in the paint.
Because Ray is covered, Pierce is the obvious second option but instead of fade-cutting to the corner, he curls up to the top of the key. Ray is a good basketball player, so he continues to fight to get open, and finishes his curl so he and Pierce are effectively occupying the same space. Since only one person can shoot the ball, the Celtics have now drawn three defenders, Pierce’s guy, Ray’s guy, and Kevin Garnett’s guy (screener), to the same area thus skyrocketing the degree of difficulty to get a shot off.
Even if Pierce did not fade to the corner, he would have been much better served screening down on Kobe Bryant and freeing Ray for a top-of-the-key trey attempt.
All of this happens in a few seconds, so it’s really hard to fault players for stuff like this and it’s really easy to point out things that could have been better after the fact. The Celtics have always executed plays in these types of situations with a high rate of success. This season, it’s really obvious that the Celtics are being hurt by not being able to practice.
“That’s what I love about [the Celtics’ offensive execution], man. I get older, they [keep doing the same gawdamn thing]”