There’s a popular basketball phrase commonly used by legendary analyst Charles Barkley that goes like this: You don’t live by the three-pointer, you die by it. Teams that rely on making a lot of them are walking on a tightrope with no safety net. It doesn’t matter who’s on the roster, the shot isn’t easier than free-throws or tip-ins a foot from the basket, and when they stop falling you’re dead. The end.
This theory held up for years before it was partially disproved by Dallas in last year’s playoffs. But for the most part it’s still pretty sturdy. The Mavs attempted 26 three-pointers to only 18 free-throws in their championship clinching Game 6 victory against the Heat. It was them sticking to their identity at a time when being themselves was what they needed most if they wanted to win. Once it became clear that guys like Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, and Jason Terry were going to make just about every open three they attempted, it put a different type of pressure on defenses who were forced to either close out harder and force drives to the basket, or stick to guys on the perimeter and open up the lane for Dirk Nowitzki, Jose Barea, or a rolling Tyson Chandler.
When Boston gave Miami the old fashioned “death by jump shot” treatment earlier this month, a large number of analysts and writers warned the general public not to treat the game’s outcome as Mitt Romney does the United States Constitution; to interpret its meaning with unrelenting stubbornness would be dangerous. Yes, the Celtics won the game, but they did so by hitting 59.6% of their two-point shots (69.2% in the fourth quarter), which is “unsustainable”. I use quotes not to be an irritating, antagonist homer. I agree that hitting shots like that could never happen again, but I don’t agree that the philosophy of it all isn’t one that can end with the Celtics winning their last game.
When they beat Miami, the Celtics didn’t rely on a last resort. They took what the defense gave them while also attempting 25 free-throws to Miami’s 27 (14 by a single player, LeBron James). Overall, I guess my point is that analyzing a single regular season game and using it to predict the outcome of a seven game playoff series is fun, but ultimately pointless. That being said, there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t win another title using the same strategy. Hitting a jump shot is the most technically difficult part of basketball, but the Celtics have a roster filled with players who’re literally the best in the world at doing so.
Paul Pierce: After recently making his final mortgage payment, Pierce is officially the proud owner of every right elbow in arenas across the country.
Ray Allen: One of the best all around shooters who ever lived.
Brandon Bass: An underrated key to Boston’s success, Bass is shooting mid-range jumpers (16-23 feet) at the same rate as Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, with equal or better efficiency. This is not a lie. He’s that good.
Kevin Garnett: In 2008 he shot 48% on mid-range jumpers while jacking up 5.5 per game. Right now he’s attempting six a night with the exact same average. Garnett is a model of elite consistency on both ends of the court, and his jumper is at a Hall of Fame level this season.
Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma: Two inexperienced players who throughout the season have seen their confidence sky rocket relating to hitting wide open shots on a consistent basis. Stiemsma averages about one shot per game from 10-23 feet and hits it 52.6% of the time. If you’ve been watching Bradley since the beginning of his blossoming, you know he’s more than capable of hitting jump shots. This isn’t how the Celtics choose to utilize Bradley, but that’s fine. He’s shown he can hit shots off the dribble when needed.
Rajon Rondo: Yes, I will include him here for the simple fact that he’s picking his spots better than ever, quietly improving one of the most talked about individual flaws in basketball. But shooting isn’t really his job. Passing the ball is, and through his ingenious engineering, the Celtics get about five assists a night from Rondo on made long twos.
Obviously, this is a different squad than the 2008 championship winning team, which ranked 27th in the league in mid-range attempts. But that team still made 43% of them, which was then good for fourth best in the NBA. Right now Boston averages 24 long twos per game (third in the league), and they make 41.4% of them (good for second best). In other words, they’re really, really good at shooting jumpers. At the end of the day you must stick to what you are, and the Celtics are filled with guys who’re more than comfortable knocking down outside shots. Call it an inefficient method and you’d be right, but straying from their identity would be to strip them of what’s already seen as an obstacle filled long shot. With what the Boston Celtics have to work with, this is the only way.
Oh, and one last thing. Which team boasted the best shooting percentage from 16-23 feet last season? You guessed it, the Dallas Mavericks.