It’s been well documented on CelticsHub (and many other places) just how much Boston’s offense has regressed this season. The freefall from a top-10 offensive team in first year of The Big Three era, to bottom-5 group in the NBA this season has been a rather painful deterioration to watch. Yet, the Boston Celtics have leaned on their defense extremely well and have done just enough offensively when it counts to arrive in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they now trail 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.
With that said, there are very few things Boston has done well offensively to make it this far during this postseason, and one of those positives has been their performance at the free throw line, as well as getting there in the first place.
In the regular season, the C’s were an average team at getting to the line (17th in FT/FGA) but ranked 5th in FT percentage, hitting 77.2 percent of their shots from the charity stripe.
Fast forward to this postseason however and Boston has shined quite brightly at the free throw line, both by getting there and making the most of their opportunities upon arriving.
In their two series against Atlanta and Philadelphia, the Celts’ improved their rate at getting to the line from the regular season, with a .221 FT/FGA ratio, a number that would have placed them in the top-10 of the NBA in the regular season and places them amongst the top half of the playoff teams this postseason.
Not only have they been getting to the line more, but Boston had hit a tremendous percentage of their free throws before Game 1 last night. Through 13 games Boston had sunk 226-of-274 attempts, good enough for a sparkling 82.5 percent, which would have topped the league in the regular season. Against just Philly they were even better, hitting 84.3 percent of their attempts.
Brandon Bass (95.3 percent), Paul Pierce (91.3 percent), and even Rajon Rondo (69.2 percent, which is great for him) had been the leaders in this department, carrying the weight even as Ray Allen (65.2 percent) had struggled all postseason.
The entire team however came crashing down to earth last night, going just 11-of-21 at the line to finish at a 52.4 percent number. Their FT/FGA rate also dropped down to .132 for the game, a tremendous drop from their postseason average. This came largely due to Pierce lacking any visits to the free throw line, something that hadn’t happened in a postseason game since back in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals, a span of 23 contests. Rondo also didn’t draw a shooting foul despite taking 20 field goal attempts.
Tough nights by Bass (0-of-2), Mickael Pietrus (1-of-4), and of course Allen (3-of-7) compounded matters as well.
Now, I’m not here to gripe about the officiating last night. A case could be made the C’s had earned a couple more trips to the line after taking 30 attempts at the rim, but that certainly wasn’t the reason they lost the game.
Instead, my main worry is that the C’s can’t afford to regress this series in either getting to the free throw line or hitting shots from the line itself. For a team that is struggling mightily with its 3-point shot (28.6 percent this postseason) for obvious reasons, getting easy points at the free throw line is one of the only ways they will be able to tread water against Miami offensively and have a chance in these games.
My sense is Doc Rivers knows this. During the regular season, Boston was able to rely on their 3-point shot in their wins against Miami. That won’t be the case in this series. Now the focus has to be getting back to basics against the athletic Miami defense. Create contact and get to the line. This has to happen in Game 2, or else it may be a short stay for Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.