The New York Knicks made more three-pointers this season than any other team in NBA history, and they did so while being the fourth most accurate three-point shooting team in the league.
This sounds meaningful, and it is.
Having the league’s second best scorer on board (scoring title be damned, Carmelo Anthony, but Kevin Durant scored 360 more points on 56 fewer shots) is wonderful, but all those threes are the primary reason New York finished 2013 as the NBA’s third best offense, scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions. (Only the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder were better.)
While Anthony is talented enough to get what he wants—when he wants, if he’s feeling it—with the ball, the most vicious weapon the Boston Celtics need to worry about in this series is Raymond Felton. He’s the air traffic controller picking and choosing who shoots from where and when; an under-appreciated point guard capable of momentarily bringing even the most coordinated defense to its knees.
In the 2313 minutes Felton took the court this season, the Knicks scored 111.1 points per 100 possessions, a high on the team. (For comparison’s sake, Anthony is 110.5, Tyson Chandler is 110.2, and J.R. Smith is 108.3.)
When he’s off the court the Knicks score 105.0 points per 100 possessions, which by contrast is lowest on the team. So yes, he’s obviously incredibly important.
Look at both of these clips. Simple penetration into the center of the defense, followed by an even simpler pass that results in an open shot.
New York’s offense is geared around penetration and ball movement. They use high screens and are uber-aggressive letting shots fly behind the arc in almost every clock-related situation, as long as the shooter’s open. Felton poses problems in two ways: he cuts into the lane, either using a screen or not, and he’s also a pretty good shooter, going 36% from behind the three-point line this season (better than teammates Smith and Jason Kidd). Teams that key in on preventing his penetration are asking him to shoot, which can be a totally screwed, pick your poison dilemma if Felton’s in a rhythm.
Lucky for the Celtics, Avery Bradley is on the roster. (This is pure speculation, but if I had to guess why Doc Rivers refused to put Bradley on Smith during a recent regular season match-up that saw the Sixth Man of the Year contender score with ease every time he touched the ball, it’s because letting Felton do what he does was the greater cause for concern.)
This is Bradley’s job for however many games this first round match-up lasts: make Felton’s life hell. Stop him from dribbling into the paint and piercing Boston’s defense by forcing it to collapse; keep Felton’s individual offense at bay by quickly fighting over high screens and staying with him step by step until, hopefully, he forces an awkward shot.
Limiting Felton’s influence is one of the many things that need to consistently happen if the Celtics are to win. If not, allowing the Knicks to launch wide open threes would be a really great way to kick off their summer vacation.