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.
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.