Post-game Reactions

Go to the basket. Don’t settle for the jumper, take it to the hole! These refrains, which can be heard universally in basketball games at virtually all levels of play, usually apply just as much to the NBA.

It’s simple logic you would think. Getting close to the basket means you are going to make an extremely high percentage of your shots at that distance. In turn, taking a lot of shots at the rim is always a good idea. Layups, dunks, putbacks, tips are generally positives for any team on the floor.

Unfortunately for your Boston Celtics, that logic has not been a reality, not only in this series, but for the better part of the last two years in their matchups against the formidable defense of the Miami Heat.

The C’s as a team haven’t been a big fan of going to the rim all year. They took just 22.5 attempts per game at the basket in the regular season, which was the fifth lowest tally in the NBA. Instead, as we all know, Boston has been reliant on their jumper much of the year, as the mid-range games of Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Ray Allen et al led Boston to taking 23.7 jumpers each contest from 16-23 feet, the 3rd highest number in the league.

The fact that Boston takes so many shots from one of the most inefficient places on the floor and the fact they had a bottom five offensive rating in the NBA this season is no coincidence. However, that’s who they are and they play the mid-range game almost as well as anyone, hitting 41.7 percent of those long jumpers, good enough for third in the league.

Despite Boston generally shying away from the rim in the regular season, they were an average team finishing upon getting there, hitting 63 percent of their attempts, which was slightly above the league average of 62.6 percent. That 63 number is a drop from previous years, but still an entirely respectable number.

As the Celtics find themselves in a 2-0 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, one of the major reasons for this deficit has been the C’s inability to finish around the rim while being contested by this vaunted Heat defense.

Through two games, the C’s have hit just 52.7 percent of their shots at the basket, a tremendous drop from their regular season mark of 63 percent. Boston and specifically Rajon Rondo have been getting to the bucket more than ever, but he hasn’t been able to make the most of his opportunities from close range. Instead, like the rest of the C’s he’s struggled mightily. Check out the breakdown of attempts over the first two games at the rim.

Rondo: 11-of-23
Pierce: 5-of-10
Garnett: 5-of-9
Bass: 3-of-6

Doc Rivers has voiced several times to the media that the C’s have been very aggressive this series and the numbers here back it up. For some perspective, all of these guys have shot more from close-range than they did on average during the regular season, but Rondo has blown his averages out of the water. The All-Star has more than doubled his regular season mark in attempts per game, taking 11.5 this series compared to just five usually before the postseason started.

That kind of aggression bodes well for Boston in this series, but one fact remains clear: The C’s have to be better from close range. However, that’s easier said than done.

The problem is Miami ranks highly among the elite in the league at defending the rim. Between the freakish athleticism of Dwayne Wade and LeBron James and the underrated shot blocking ability of Joel Anthony, the Heat have an undersized but very formidable group to contest shots.

During the regular season, they were the second best team in the league defending their basket, allowing opponents to hit just 57.7 percent of their attempts from inside three feet, a superb number.

Not only is Miami great at denying baskets from close range, they block shots with tremendous success as well, averaging six blocks a game against the C’s in the regular season this year. Through two games in this series, they have 16 blocks already.

Now while it might be easy to attribute the C’s struggles at the basket as a couple bad games within a very small sample size, that’s not the case in this particular matchup. In fact, Boston’s problems at the rim have been a rule rather than the exception over the past two years against Miami, especially in the postseason.

In Boston’s 2011 4-1 loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Heat, they shot just 56.4 percent from within three feet in that series. Combined with their numbers this postseason, the C’s have hit just 55.2 percent of their shots (95-of-172) at the rim over seven postseason games. That’s a dismal number that would have placed Boston at the bottom of the league.

Now there are different names and faces on both sides this year, but the core pieces remain in place on both sides, making those numbers very relevant. (Miami was top in the league defending the rim last year as well).

Want to expand the numbers to include the regular season from both years as an even bigger sample size? The numbers only slightly improve, with Boston hitting just 57.6 percent of their attempts at the bucket over 15 contests, still a huge drop from Boston’s season average, and a mark that would rank among the league’s worst.

So what’s the solution here for the Celts? Should they stop attacking the rim as much if they can’t finish? Should they be getting to the line more? Like Doc, I’m not going to touch that one. I will say the numbers show the C’s are being extremely aggressive, much more so than in the regular season, in getting to the rim and an increase in free throws has not been proportional in accounting for the spike during this series, especially during Game 1. However, that may just be because Miami does a better job than most teams at contesting without fouling. Or maybe the C’s are getting slightly hosed. I’ll let you the reader decide.

With that said the C’s have to do better job finishing. Period. They can’t afford to miss nearly one out of every two shots at the basket moving forward if they want to have any hope of turning this matchup into a series.

That starts with Rondo, who ironically is shooting 75 percent from mid-range (9-of-12!) through these first two defeats. I almost feel foolish picking on the guy after his Game 2, but in order for Boston to win this series, he needs to make more than half of his shots at the rim. Pierce, Garnett and Bass all need to be better too, and finish their opportunities from close range.

All of these guys obviously can do better and I think they will. If not though, Boston’s season could be coming to an end as soon as Sunday.

Statistical support provided by Hoopdata.com and NBA.com

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Brian Robb

Brian Robb co-founded CelticsHub in 2009 and is the currently editor-in-chief. He is a producer and reporter at 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston and also contributes to Boston.com and Bleacher Report among other outlets.
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  • GowGow

    How dare you! Rondo is untouchable at this stage!

    I kid.

  • Greenies

    Simple answer. Miami fouls boston at the rim and doesn't get called for it.

    • CelticsBIG3

      I'm with you.

      • Brian

        Ditto! No team gets away with more hacks than Miami.My biggest issue with the refs isn't so much that Wade and James get alot of free throw attemps it's that neither one of these guys is ever in foul trouble. Jordan and Pippen got away with the same shit back in the 90's

  • High Rollers

    Why not pick on him for that? I'm sure Doc is, without hesitating. If you don't, you're not giving them a chance, whereas they really have every chance in the world if they adapt to the D they're being shown, which they absolutely have the IQ and marmalade to accomplish. I keep picturing that first time in 2010 against Cleveland where James was hunting Rondo down like a shark in transition and the kid wowed everyone with a behind-the-back pinpoint pass to a trailing TA for the jam. TA's in Memphis–or Belize–but the same trust and foreknowledge Rondo showed then of his teammates' whereabouts on the court still exists. Not only that, Rondo's a much stronger voice now, commanding folks to be where they need to be. My point is, these shots-at-the-rim problems are a direct result not of Miami's impenetrable (and unfouling… ha! yeah right) defense, but rather of not adapting to what's there with necessary level of teamwork. In this vein the C's should copy the Heat (pardon me while I go wash my hands for typing that). Either a guy needs to be there to clean up a missed gimme or he needs to be there working in tandem with the guy penetrating or you need to look for the cuts that may be happening randomly and out of broken offensive possessions but are clearly there nevertheless. I've seen so many guys open under the basket that the lack of anyone finding them there thus far is beginning to trouble my dreams at night. And that too is not about Miami; that's about patience, attention, trust, and mental flexibility. I guarantee you we have all these things in our arsenal.

  • High Rollers

    P.S. James said after Game 2 that Rondo had given everything. I agree that Rondo held nothing back, but a person would have to be a fool to believe the kid hit the ceiling that night. He is altogether an anomaly in this league, making his game any given night anything but anomalous. Spoelstra was right about one thing… unpredictability, at least if you're defending him, is a guarantee. Last thing I'll say about Rondo: I have no pity or patience for folks who can't believe he shot that well or can't believe it will happen again tonight. At the same time, there's a Big 3 out there that needs to take advantage of their new scoring point guard. They can't get caught staring from below; they have to crash through the ceiling with him.

  • skeeds

    Expecting from our PG to average more than say… 60% around the rim, against the team that doesn't turn the ball over, is illogical. Not right now, any way. Give him 1-2 years, to improve those awkward floaters and teardrops he's been trying and polish his english. He's going for the Tony Parker style of scoring, and game 2 was just a preview. can't wait!

    • zach

      I agree and think he overuses the flip shots and needs to develop reliable floaters ala Tony Parker.

  • zach

    Part of this is just age/athleticism. When you play against people who jump quicker and higher than you it is hard to finish — plain and simple. Even Rondo for all his physical gifts resorts to flip shots when he gets close, especially against teams like the Heat. As much as it pains me to write this, this low finishing % is a key example of the advantage Miami holds. That being said we ARE getting hosed by the officials as well. PP in particular never gets the calls he used to when he takes it to the rim. I think the refs are biased in favor of fast and athletic players and don't give calls to the crafty PP types.

    • High Rollers

      Speaking of resorting to flip shots… I'm pretty sure the refs fouled P out on a ridiculous (as in ridiculously desperate and totally undeserving of a foul call) flip shot. But that would fall under the category you mentioned, you know, of getting hosed. Contact is contact, so call it or don't call it, but it better be equal treatment on both sides. So far Miami's "athleticism" is just another euphemism for favoritism.

    • CanePhin

      18 Damn Banners later, now the NBA Ref's are hosing the C's? Really? Really?

  • danquarterly

    It's a shame, but the Celtics are just too tired (I refuse to say too old, I think KG, PP, and Ray have at least two good years left – KG and Ray on other teams though). They aren't finishing just because they aren't the athletes that they once were. You know, like way back when KG played all five positions.

    Also, I wrote a little something on Game 2, particularly Rondo, on my blog. Check it out if you get a chance and let me know what you think. http://bit.ly/LewDBa

  • ElRoz

    Bass has to be more aggressive with his mid-range jumper and with his drive inside to the rim.

  • Tom

    I personally think the celts will bounce back in game 3 and do what they do best, step up in the face of adversity so i did an article abvout them with a link to an article that tells u how to bet it here http://nbawagers.com/2012/05/if-there-was-any-dou

  • lakershater13

    Lets hope the refs figure out they are not in Miami anymore.

    We dont want to see calls like this…

  • lakershater13

    My biggest issue with this series is if you look back on game 2 Pierce got touch fouls twice when Lebron was posting up. Now if you watch Lebron play post defense on KG or even look back at the Pacer series when he guarded West he is fouling the crap out of the forwards down low. Yet he posts up and Pierce is getting a lot of fouls. I don't care if Lebron shoots 30 fts a game but let him drive and get hit. Don't put him at the line for touch fouls.

    • lakershater13

      Oh and 13 games into the post season playing 41 minutes a game and having to guard multiple positions he is not accustomed to playing Lebron is averaging a career low in the post season in fouls at just 1.8 fouls a game. Yeah because that is legit and Lebron doesn't ever foul.

  • janos

    Hi Bryan, is Janos
    do not worry on layup, rondos. Tonight we win, not on rout thunder did, but still decievice win

  • John V

    I don't like making excuses and when I saw others blame the refs, my instinct is to reject it. Sure, the refs are not giving us many calls, but can that explain such a huge drop off?

    Well, Brian says over 7 games, the Cs are 95 for 172 at the rim — 55.2% instead of the 63% they averaged during the year. What if the refs have missed, on average, 3 calls a game, where a Celtic got fouled and didn't make the shot, but the ref didn't call the foul? That would be 21 fewer official FGA, so 95 for 151, resulting in a percentage of… 62.9%.

    However, if the refs have "only" missed an average of 2 calls a game, that would put the Cs at 60.1%… better than teams do on average against the Heat, but not good enough.

    The refs have been awful, but I agree with Brian that the Cs need to pick it up some. In game 1, Rondo had a one-on-one against Turiaf — not Anthony, Turiaf — and he completely blew it. I think part of it is, knowing when you have the shot. Just because you get the ball within three feet of the basket doesn't mean you have to shoot it.

    Get to the basket, disrupt the defense, make James and Wade overplay (which they always do), and then make a pass to someone wide open. That could work.

  • Johnson

    One reason I was actually excited to see Chris Wilcox getting into rhythm earlier in the season was the fact that we might actually have a big guy who specializes in finishing at the rim. Other than Shaq we haven't had any big, legitimate low-post threats in the past couple years, which is probably by design to get better spacing with Rondo on the floor.

    Unfortunately this Heat team can go "small" and still be as tall or taller than all our guys except KG, and with their athleticism they can contest every shot without fouling (at least according to these refs). I'm a Brandon Bass fan but he struggles with finishing around the rim more than a big man should, and I don't think an injured Pierce posting up Lebron is a great idea. People may dismiss us as biased fans when we complain about refs, but the Celtics' productivity at the rim is really gonna come down to getting the calls on drives to the basket.