The narrow porthole provided by the top row of the Madison Square Garden media section creates a unique perspective. On Saturday, I saw a fierce competition and an all-out battle for defensive supremacy. Later, when I re-watched the game through the NBA media stats page, I followed a much different narrative. I saw slow, plodding basketball rife with indecision and poor ball security.
Okay, so I may have isolated the Celtics 20 turnovers and put them in an unending loop. It wasn’t exactly a full and accurate picture of how the game played out. It was, however, a nice little collage of easily fixable problems with really one solution: the remembrance that this is the FREAKING playoffs!
Much to my surprise, Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce did not share my observations (via Chris Forsberg and ESPN Boston):
Rivers: “We played hard. So did they. We have to play better. It’s like I told our guys, hard is great, but hard and smart is more important.”
Pierce: “We’ve just got to be a little more patient, take our time, understand what sets we’re running, understand who we’re trying to get the ball to, continue to play pressure defense.”
Hmmm…allow me to respectfully disagree, somewhat.* More patient?!
After my own, non-comprehensive, selective film study I have concluded that the Celtics could have easily won Saturday’s game. They just needed to play with more FIRE. In many of the possessions you’ll see isolated below, the Celtics played with Marquis-Daniels-esque fervor. Which is totally okay, if you’re a slow but deliberate/crafty player like Daniels. If you are reliant on your athleticism and aggression (I’m looking at you Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, and Kevin Garnett!). If playing slow makes you indecisive, then please leave Daniels in Miami. Besides, channeling him when he has to concentrate on defending LeBron James just isn’t fair.
The following are two examples of what I’m talking about. They also seem to be the most schematically correctable.
It was clear from the giddy-up that the Celtics were going to get the Knicks to switch the pick-and-roll and exploit those match-up advantages until the Knicks begged for mercy! Unfortunately for the C’s, the only way to get the Knicks to quit is to frustrate Carmelo Anthony into a bad shooting night.
In the preceding clip, Pierce gets Felton in a switch and tries to go to work but he takes a wrong turn. By being directly in the middle of the half court space, he’s really occupying all of the Knick defenders and has no real passing angles to any of his teammates. His teammates should be running some sort of counteraction to get somebody open. Like, maybe:
Brandon Bass should really be a three point shooter if Pierce is going to go this way. Since he’s not, he’s not doing anything by staying in his midrange sweet spot besides allowing Anthony to guard him and Pierce. He could have done the same action that took the Pacers down at the buzzer by moving into ‘Melo and then up-picking on Chris Copeland. Green would then presumably be available to streak to hoop and accept an over the top alley-oop from Pierce. Meanwhile, Garnett could have moved into space on the right wing to give Pierce a second option. The play, as seen above, is too slow to develop (or better yet, doesn’t develop at all) and Pierce loses the ball to Felton’s quick and ravenous hands. In other words, “c’mon guys, this is the FREAKING playoffs.”
This next clip illustrates another problem the C’s had with double-teams:
The action is actually bad here. Bradley moves into the space vacated by Anthony and JR Smith can’t leave Pierce alone. Garnett just needs to make the pass to either Bradley or Pierce. It’s like he saw Spike Lee and thought to himself, “man, I wonder what it would be like to live behind a false wall in a bank supply closet,” momentarily forgetting that it’s the FREAKING playoffs.
Similar to Garnett’s ball-security problem highlighted in the previous clip, here’s a nice mosaic of Pierce and Green just not being strong with the ball:
I blame Pierce for making a weak pass, but I can’t help but blame everyone else for just giving Pierce the isolation and running as far away from any suitable passing lane. As for the Greenie-gimmies? He needs to start to mean-muggin’ when he gets those balls right under the hoop. It’s like he was back running skeleton drills in training camp and then out of the corner of his eye he sees Jason Kidd saying, “C’mon man! It’s the FREAKING playoffs” as he streaks away with the ball.
And then, there were the oft-spoken entry passes. Poor, poor Avery Bradley and his commitment to running the play even when the play isn’t there.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were so impressed with Felton’s coverage skills, they signed him to a six year deal. Unfortunately for them, they won’t have Bradley as their opposing quarterback (luckily, there’s always Tony Romo). Bradley is just the wrong person to be making these passes because it cuts the two man game in half. If we’re voting on a replacement, allow me to submit my ballot for Jordan Crawford over Jason Terry. With Bradley making the pass, the Knicks aren’t worried about him hitting an off-the dribble three or attacking the basket. If Crawford or (gulp!) Terry is the ball-handler, they have to honor both pick-and-roll partners as competent offensive threats.
If I were Doc, my one message to Bradley, “C’mon, man! Grit and balls!” Oh, and, “it’s the FREAKING playoffs!”
These issues of ball-security, indecisiveness, and poor execution can be easily rectified by watching film. It’s the remedies that involve an attitude change that concern me a little more. The C’s wasted a poor-shooting night from Anthony and JR Smith by not executing down the stretch. It’s unlikely that both of these guys will shoot as poorly as they did again. In fact, it’s more likely that ‘Melo and Smith will steal/dominate a game with an unreasonably hot shooting night. If this series plays out like I predicted, that hot-shooting win would be the only other win for the Knicks. I’d feel a lot better about that prediction if the C’s clean up these issues and win wire-to-wire tonight.
It’s obvious that the C’s dissected Game 1 for schematic adjustments. I hope they also caught some of the Bulls game last night and took notes on how to play hard, fast, physical, and tough for 48 minutes. Game 3 isn’t until Friday, which means the C’s will have two and a half days to sit in ice baths. Let’s hope the tubs are already filled and ready for dunking.
*”Somewhat” modifies “disagree.” I’m always respectful, dorkface.