A few days ago I sat down to write a column titled “Why Hasn’t Jason Terry Worked Out With the Boston Celtics?” It was during Game 3, and only a few words were crafted into the opening sentence when Terry turned back the clock, temporarily lighting my idea on fire by knocking down three first half 3-pointers in a matter of seconds.
The column hasn’t died, but its narrative was altered and complicated after J.R. Smith purposefully elbowed Terry in the face. I wouldn’t say his response in Game 4 merits a “let sleeping dogs lie” bouquet, but Terry did hit a few humongous shots that extended Boston’s season another few days.
It’s the first time we saw Jason Terry playing like Jason Terry: Give him a screen, let him work in the mid-range. According to NBA.com/Stats, this season Terry shot 49.2% on jump shots between 16-24 feet, an elite number and an area of the floor where he’s always thrived. This was where he sliced up the Miami Heat during the 2011 NBA Finals, and where he established himself as a versatile offensive weapon off the bench for so many years. But for whatever reason, this isn’t where the Celtics have chose to get Terry his looks, in part because he’s now at the age where help is needed to get him open inside the three-point line.
In the first round Terry has attempted only two shots from the 16-24 feet. One of them came as the direct result of a high screen from Kevin Garnett. It was arguably his biggest shot in a Celtics uniform. Terry takes the high screen on the right side of the floor going left, and the Knicks respond by switching.
With Tyson Chandler isolated on him at the top of the arc, Terry changes direction and drives right, straight towards Garnett who’s somewhat caught by surprise in an attempt to post up Ray Felton. With the shot clock winding down, Terry’s look is clean and he sinks it, giving Boston a three-point cushion and effectively ending the game.
In a less stressful situation earlier in the series, here’s Terry once again taking a high screen from Garnett and going straight at Chandler, who’s playing a soft pick-and-roll coverage. He doesn’t have enough room to pull up at the three-point line, so Terry tries to blow by Chandler, eventually drawing a shooting foul.
In order to give their offense some variance and a little bit of punch, Terry should be placed in situations like this a whole lot more. He’s still an effective offensive player, and the entire reason Boston signed him to the full mid-level exception was to take advantage of his offensive abilities off the dribble, or at least that was the idea.
Boston has instead centered its entire offense around trying to place Paul Pierce near the foul line with a smaller defender on his back. The Knicks have done nothing to thwart this strategy because they welcome it.
Frankly, Pierce has looked completely over his head at times—turning it over, forcing step back jumpers that go in sometimes, but stifle the offense’s flow all the time—and the most logical way to loosen that load would be moving the ball around and letting others carry their weight. He’s shooting 42% from the floor (25% from behind the 3-point line on six attempts per game) and turning the ball over 5.5 times a game.
(Pierce’s usage percentage is at 31.2% through four games—up from 27.4% throughout the regular season—which doesn’t bode well for the Celtics’ offense given how he’s played, and how the Knicks are defending him.)
This season, including the playoffs, 14.7% of Terry’s offensive plays have been utilized as a pick-and-roll ball handler. Synergy Sports has him ranked as the 99th most efficient player in these situations, scoring 0.76 points per possessions and shooting 37.1% (39.1% on 23 attempts from behind the 3-point line). The Celtics have only so many ways to improve their offense with their season coming down to one final game, but putting the ball in Jason Terry’s hands and letting him create for himself might be the smartest option.