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Predictable: Boston’s Offense Has A Paul Pierce Problem

Predictable. Stale. Stagnant. Hopeless. These are all words you can use to describe the Celtics’ offense in this series. Three days after setting a franchise postseason low water mark with just 25 points in a half, the Celtics decided to rewrite the record book yet again.

Things couldn’t get worse after Game 1, right? Wrong. The Celtics scored 23 points in the second half last night. Unlike Game 1, turnovers weren’t the issue last night. Instead, the Celtics shot just 7-for-36 from the field, a putrid 19.4 percent from the field. That’s the lowest shooting percentage in a postseason half by an NBA team in more than 15 years, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Boston’s been bad here, historically bad, against an average defensive team.

As we expected, the C’s miss Rajon Rondo. He’s not around though, and hasn’t been for months, so there is no need to talk about that now. Instead, the Celtics have been lulled into a false sense of security, focusing almost exclusively on a mismatch that really doesn’t exist in their halfcourt offense.

Paul Pierce vs. Raymond Felton.

Ever since the Celtics made the late-season switch to a big starting lineup, that is the matchup that had Doc Rivers salivating once the Knicks were lined up at a first round foe.

“We’re going to attack anyone Paul has on him,” Rivers said last night before Game 2.

Unfortunately, this philosophy has led to the demise of the Celtics’ half court offense for the better part of these first two games.

In theory, Pierce vs. Felton should be a mismatch. The Captain has the size and bulk advantage. However, a few things have kept Pierce from dominating this matchup.

1) Felton is defending better than the Celtics anticipated, forcing Pierce into some contested shots.

2) Pierce is 36 years old, and doesn’t have the same post game and body control he did during his prime, while playing in the post.

3) The Knicks are being smart with their double teams, forcing Pierce to take the ball into a crowd in the middle of the floor when he tries to make a move to the hoop, leading to countless turnovers (Pierce has 11 this series)

4) Perhaps most importantly, despite all of this, the Celtics are going to Pierce nearly EVERY DAMN TIME down the floor in the halfcourt offense.

Let’s get one thing straight here. The Knicks do not have a bad defense. They don’t have a great one either. No team should be posting franchise records for lowest points in a half in back-to-back games against this roster. Against the Bulls and Pacers defense, that would be almost expected. Against this one? Inexcusable.

With that said, the Knicks have a bunch of seasoned veterans on this squad that have been around the block a few times in the NBA. They may not all be great defenders, but they are smart and pick their spots well defensively. You know what helps any team’s defense though? Knowing exactly what and where your opponent’s play will be going every time down the floor.

Boston’s play calling in the halfcourt has led to this predictability, giving the Knicks the flexibility to tighten up their defense, since they don’t have to think about what is going to happen next. Why? Roughly 80 percent of the time, they know exactly what’s coming.

What happens? Off of a pick-and-roll or some other form of non-threatening ball movement (handoff, etc.) Pierce waits for the ball at the elbow, roughly with about 12 seconds on the clock.

From there, Pierce has been forced into one of 3 options as the shot clock winds down:

a) Taking a contested jumper
b) Making a move into traffic, where multiple Knicks defenders are waiting for him in the lane, leading to missed layups or turnovers
c) Passing out of double teams, to a poorly spaced Boston offense that is unable to move the ball quickly, giving the Knicks time to recover.

A couple examples of this, in video:

That’s literally been the Celtics’ half court offense through the first two games of this series. They’ll mix in a KG post up here and there, as well as a Jeff Green isolation and/or drive off a pick from the wing off a pick or cut, but Pierce has generally been option 1, 2, and 3 most times down the floor.

The results have been incredibly underwhelming. It’s no concidence that last night the Celtics had their best offensive sequence in the second quarter without Pierce on the floor, (who finished with a plus/minus of -28 last night).

The fivesome of Garnett, Bass, Crawford, Terry, and Bradley outscored the Knicks 16-4 on an offense predicated on drive and dish, optimistic transition offense, and a couple KG postups.

Back to Pierce though. His usage in the offense is disturbing on a variety of levels. Not only is it predictable for the Knicks’ defense, but it’s also ton of work for Pierce. If you are involved in the offense every time down the floor, you will get tired. Pierce is not LeBron James. He doesn’t have the stamina or separation skills to make something happen for 36 minutes on offense, especially against a pesky defender like Felton.

Want some disturbing numbers that back this up? Check out Pierce’s usage for the first two games, along with his season rate:

Game 1: 32.7
Game 2: 35.7
Season: 27.2

Those numbers would put Pierce in top 2 of the NBA for usage rate over the course of the regular season, alongside players like Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, and Kobe Bryant. Even LeBron’s usage isn’t close to this high.

Doc Rivers is asking Pierce to be those guys though in this series, and the veteran is simply not capable of doing that in this stage of his career. This isn’t 2008. He can’t play like those guys anymore, especially for big minutes

Doc has to take a lot of the blame for this. He’s running Pierce into the ground, and it’s led to historically bad offense for the last two games. Mike Woodson knows what’s coming, his team knows what’s coming and they’ve been prepared for it. Unfortunately, Rivers has been unable to adjust his gameplan on the fly.

For those wondering about an alternative, there’s no easy solution and that’s part of the problem. The Celtics are without their main creator in Rondo, but there are other players that can contribute.

1) Remember Brandon Bass? The guy who was playing so well for the past two months? He’s been an afterthought in the offense for the past two games, attempting just eight shots. His usage rate last night was 10 percent, seven points below his season average. I covered how the C’s could use him with more depth in a post from yesterday

2) The Knicks have also showed an inability to slow down Jeff Green most of the game when he takes the ball to the basket. He’s struggled after the first half in both of the first two games, but that’s largely because the team stopped getting him the ball in good offensive positions. He’s a better bet than Pierce right now to be useful in the halfcourt, as long as he isn’t settling for jumpers.

3) Jason Terry from the midrange. He’s taken only blown layups and 3-pointers in this series. He’s one of the C’s most dangerous ballhandlers and creators, but he’s been resigned to a spotup shooter most possessions. That’s playing away from his strengths.

All in all, the biggest issue here is stubborn playcalling and that falls on Doc.. It bogs the C’s down, limits ball movement for a group that has not played together much, and leads to turnovers, tough shots, and inefficient offense.

When the Celtics’ offense thrived this year for a period after Rondo went down, it was because they were spontaneous. Other teams didn’t know where the ball was going each time down the floor. Pierce alternated between being a distributor and scorer. Defenses didn’t know who would be bringing it up, who would be attacking, and when you don’t know what’s coming, it’s hard to defend the basket.

If the Celtics want to win this series, it’s on the head coach to mix things up. He needs to let Pierce be a distributor, instead of just a scorer and creator. He needs to get away from Pierce in the post (as much). He needs to find simple but effective ways to get the ball moving again in the halfcourt, to create opportunties for the entire offense, not just Pierce.

If he can do that, the Celtics will have a chance to make it a series.

  • Pauper

    "Hallelujah!" I'm glad someone finally wrote this. I love Doc and think he's a great coach but his glaring weakness as a coach is showing. He's not a creative thinker and unwilling to gamble when gambling is the only shot we have this year. We are an overwhelming underdog not only in this series but the whole postseason so you can't play like you have superior talent which is leaning on your stars like the Heat, OKC, and even the Knicks. We need to get creative and hope to strike lightening with surprise contributions from a Randolph, Williams, or Bass on the offensive end. I hate Pierce being forced to try and carry the team in the 2Hs. Why not run pick and roll with Terry and Bass which are their strengths? How about Pierce and JG playing some 2 man ball as opposed to one or the other but never together? Let's think out of the box and stop living in 2008 when we could sleepwalk to wins.

    • Josh_5

      Stole the words right from me Pauper. This issue NEEDED to be addressed. Pierce is not selfish by nature (has 2 triple doubles this year) but I believe Doc is an IDIOT for continuing to run the "clogged toilet" offense. Stop pretending Pierce is 29 and lets get some damn ball movement going. Let Terry handle the ball (his strength especially in P&R) so Bradley doesn't have to handle it (his weakness). These adjustments are 8th grade reading level adjustments. Pull your head outta your ass Doc.

      • Pauper

        Absolutely agree with you on that. Terry's strength is pick and roll. He's a better shooter off the dribble than spot up, handles better than AB, and is a better playmaker than AB. This also allows AB to exert more energy on D and cut to the basket which is his strength. Not that Randolph will necessarily make a difference, but at least give him a few minutes to see if he can give the same energy that Kenyon Martin is giving the Knicks, the Birdman to the Heat, and Noah gave to the Bulls in game 2. People forget many playoff games are decided by the supporting cast. Posey and Brown were huge for us in 2008. Terry and Stevenson were key for the Mavs and even that annoying Chalmers and Battier came up huge for the Heat last year. STOP DOING WHAT ISN'T WORKING!!!

  • Dirk

    Agree completely. Gotta be more spontaneous on offense. The run after RR went down was in part fueled by the emotional hit but and it wasn't just luck, the team was sharing the ball beautifully on offense resulting on easy buckets all around. A less predictable style of play as you mention. Should note though, that being this the playoffs and a series against the Knicks, the tempo will go down, slowing down the offense too.

  • hydrofluoric

    What I've been seeing is that Woodson is just destroying Doc in terms of adjustments. The good stuff happens in the first half when Pierce is (a) less tired but (b) also able to catch the ball about 5-6 feet inside the 3 point line. From that point, his post-up game is extremely effective over Felton and Prigioni

    In the second halves, Pierce has been pushed far off the block. He gets it right at the 3 point line, is more tired, and sees less motion from his teammates.

    I don't think running Pierce in the post is a bad offense, but it absolutely needs to be better conceptualized, and Doc needs to work on making sure Pierce gets good position. Of course, it also doesn't help things that as we've all noted so many times, Pierce is one of the least call-friendly players of his caliber in the league.

  • Jim

    One thing I have always said about the playoffs is that each game is like a chess match and adjustments have to be made if things are not working. Doc is losing a lot of fans because of his refusal to try something different. We watch the same things over and over in the second half of games. That has been going on for most of the season. It is not so much we are losing as to the fact we lose the same way every time. Pierce , Garnett and Terry are all showing their age. Going with one point guard on the team was a huge mistake. Watching the Celtics is like watching ground hog day over and over. Frankly the Celtics will be going home for the season soon.It might be time for Garnett and Pierce to start thinking about retirement.

  • The Cardinal

    I've concluded that Doc really believes (and perhaps it's true, I dunno) that the only way the Celtic's win is lean heavily on PP, JG and KG regardless of the circumstances as many have observed. Fine for the 1st half but for the 2nd half – these three seemed to be really fatigued. It really wouldn't be such a bad thing to start rotating the reserves in around 5 minutes into the 3rd in order to try to save the stallions for most of the 4th. However, if we don't make the right substitutions, this won't work either.

    On a totally unrelated note, I am so sick of the announcers ignoring the fact that Chris Wilcox also underwent life threatening heart surgery. Sure, he's not getting much playing time, but to continually bring up Jeff Green (and the players that were injured this season) without a single mention of Wilcox is just so wrong. Wilcox's story is every bit as remarkable as Jeff's.

    • GymRat

      Have to agree with you on Wilcox. Even Celtics Hub has been unusually harsh on him all season completely ignoring the effects that such a life altering surgery could be playing into his game this season.

      Kudos for reminding us all.

  • Green fan

    Could agree more. I've been waiting for this to be said by someone. That's not working any more. We need to do whatever is working. More Courtney lee also even just for defensive duties.

  • Tony Knicks

    I agree that Paul Pierce totally blows.

    Your friend,

  • Tony Knicks

    My bad yo, I meant to say that I blow and that I'm uglier than Amare's contract.



  • Two Cents

    I'd like to see Doc go back to what worked right after Rondo went down:

    Point guard by committee, up-tempo, get it and go basketball.

    I also prefer the Pierce, Garnett, Bass, Bradley, Lee starting lineup. No disrespect to Green, but since he's been starting his minutes have gone up that much more and it's weakened the second unit as well. It's not about who starts the game, but who finishes.

  • Morpheus

    Oh, i don’t think i’ve ever blamed Doc for his coaching, but he deserves full blame and responsibility for this shit offense in the 1st 2 games of this series. Doc needs to adjust being stubborn will eliminate the Cs in 4 if he doesn’t effing wake the eff up. Wake up Doc.

  • Werty

    This restored my faith in Rondo. After he went down and the Celtics didn't miss a beat, I became skeptical. Now, I realize the value of Rondo is more than his regular season shortcomings, but also his outstanding playoff play.

  • BleedGreen

    I totally agree w every comment that was posted here, so hoping for a change in game 3?

  • GymRat

    Tough thing about this post is likely the only person who doesn't feel all the above is true…is Doc Rivers…the only person who can actually make a difference by implementing the much-needed changes.

    I've been a huge Doc Rivers supporter, but have to say that this years playoffs he's proved to be one of the weakest coaches in the post season (D'Antoni is still by far the worst coach in the NBA). Marc Jackson made brilliant adjustments to stun Denver and win without David Lee. McHale gave it his best tonight and nearly shocked OKC taking risks and making changes on the fly (he even showed up Barkley and all the analysts who doubted him for it). Thibs got his banged up and bloody squad to tighten down and squeeze the life out of Brooklyn. Doc just really doesn't trust this team beyond KG, PP and JG, and for some reason refuses to admit when things aren't working it isn't always the execution. AB is not a point guard, and this team can't win pretended that he is or that PP is still in his prime. There's a reason San Antonio is still elite and Duncan is having his best season in years…Pop knows how to coach the hell out of anything you give him and work with the strengths of his players.

    C'mon Doc, show us you still got it.

    • Kel

      Sounds like more of a personnel problem than a Doc problem. I think the expectations for this team have been incredibly unrealistic. They've been playing like a first round exit most of the season…

      • check12check

        i don't want to give you the thumbs up really, but you are right. they had the ability to beat any team on any given night, but in the NBA that only means so much

        • check12check

          I did love the ups and downs though. despite not having a great season….we kind of did. I see bright things in our future

          • Kel

            I agree, it was a great season to watch. With Rondo, AB and Green we have a great core for the future. Of course now all we need is a big man, a scorer, and oh yeah a bench. That's all!

      • GymRat

        My expectations all season have been this team would play hard and fight for every possession. If that meant we lost in round 1 so be it. The grit and balls has been there in spurts and I don't see any reason that if you can consistently outplay teams for 24 minutes that you suddenly go flat and turn into a lottery team for the rest of the game.

        You watch Houston and you see a team that is outmatched and lacks experience, BUT the effort and will to win is still evident. I don't see that with this team this season, and agreed, that definitely is partly a problem with the personnel…but it's on the coach to put players on the floor who will compete and to run plays and a system that takes advantage of the personnel we have.

  • CG12

    It has always been Doc Rivers's thing that he does what he does, and sticks with through hell or high water. It has served him well, but we've always known that there would come a day when it wouldn't. We may have arrived at that day. After game 1 fans were griping about the offense in the second half (I know I was). So slow and so predictable. AND THEN THEY WENT OUT AND THE EXACT SAME THING IN GAME 2. That isn't what worked after Rondo went down, and it isn't working now. This has been the Celtics not-so-secret flaw the last few years. The second half offense is just terrible, plain and simple. I don't know how many times the C's have acked up leads and gone into total stagnation ball, but it feels like a lot. We should be prepared to see something very similar for the next 2 (and more???) games. But it is, at the very least, time to re-tool some of the Celtics' basic structure this off-season. Give Jeff Green the keys. Maybe bring Pierce off the bench. KG may not be back. It is time to turn the page and go truly up-tempo, like Doc is always saying.

  • emg

    Jeff Green's steps arm movements are too long and pendular and slow. Carmelo and Pierce shoot jerky fast shots. It seems easy to defend Green when he's not in transition. I don't see him saving the day in a jungle of defense because his technique telegraphs everything he does.

    • Josh_5

      ya he definitely telegraphed those 43 points against the defending champs….Cmon man! Jeff had a very good game 1 and his performance has nothing to do with being down 0-2. Look at Pierce's turnovers, Jet's terrible shooting and Doc's poor coaching adjustments.

      • emg

        I agree with that. I'm just saying that I think there's a weakness in his technique that makes him easier to guard than we think – I don't think at this point we're not going to see amazing stuff out of Green in the playoffs except in transition.

        • Green fan

          Well you can say the same thing for Kevin Martin but he has been good. He brings the ball all the way from his hip before he shoots. I agree with Josh_5 if Jeff's not getting looks then he isn't going to get in a rhythm to do other things. The offense needs more movement and if he's coming off screens those weaknesses wont be a problem if he's open. Movement is the key.

          • hydrofluoric

            Kevin Martin isn't a scorer on the Thunder though. Jeff Green is supposed to be like Paul Pierce; Kev-Mart's role is basically 2012 Ray Allen's.

  • hax

    Bradley & Garnett for Bledsoe & Jordan.
    Terry-Lee-Crawford-Randolph-Sullinger bench