I’m really good at rock-paper-scissors, if being good at such a thing is possible. Here’s my trick: If you are playing best-of-3 (and really, what kind of a person DOESN’T do best-of-3?) and if you win one of the first two games, always repeat your winning selection. So if scissors beat your opponent once, stick with scissors. They might anticipate you, but in my experience, it’s more likely they will try to over-think it and stay with paper.
Much like rock-paper-scissors, the Celtics needed a ton of luck to beat the Heat last night in the final three seconds of game-time, including a massive brain fart by Dwyane Wade. But for Brad Stevens, it was also an opportunity to show his skills at drawing up a play for a quick shot, and the results were encouraging. Stevens chose scissors twice, but he did so in different ways.
The first interesting thing to note is that both this pass and the one that led to the game winner were long lobs that barely cleared the defense. The second is that Green and Wallace exchanged roles as passer and receiver on the final two plays. This is what I’m referring to when I say Stevens called “scissors” twice. But the action leading up to both plays was very different.
Both plays begin the same way: The two de facto bigs on the elbows and wings on the block. Since the Celtics were down four, the Heat presumably thought Boston would go for the 3-pointer, which — in its simplest form — would mean Wallace and Olynyk setting pin-down screens. Fortunately, Stevens is a little trickier than that. Instead of going for the expected 3-pointer, Boston runs several misdirections which clear out the lane for Gerald Wallace.
Bradley pulls Wade out of the lane by cutting to the corner. Meanwhile, Crawford moves around Wallace and pulls his man out of the lane as well while Kelly Olynyk moves to the top of the key. It’s entirely possible that if any of the other players had found themselves open, Green would have dished to them instead, but the play seemed to be designed to get a quick layup.
Getting that quick layup makes a lot more sense than common logic would dictate. Admittedly, a two-pointer leaves open the possibility that two high-pressure free throws could ice the game, but with 3.6 seconds remaining, a 3-pointer also takes longer to shoot and would take valuable seconds off the clock (as do pump fakes GERALD but all’s well that end’s well etc). If possible, it’s better to shoot a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie or win, since as long as the ball is released before the buzzer sounds, it doesn’t matter how long it takes for the shot to drop through.
Which brings us to the shot.
Go ahead and watch that a few more times. I can wait.
Once again, the Celtics put both bigs at the elbows and both guards on the blocks, swapping Green for Wallace as the in-bounds passer. This time, it doesn’t look like Green was the intended recipient of the play but rather a backup plan in case Miami’s defense was able to stick with the cross screen between Bradley and Crawford under the hoop.
Miami does just that. Chalmers fights through to stick with Bradley, and Wade navigates Olynyk’s screen with ease (something many opponents have been able to do this season).
But wait! Olynyk is not quite done setting screens on this play!
Green, at this point, has created enough separation from LeBron to make Olynyk’s job difficult — Kelly would have a hard time setting a solid pick without moving, so he’s excused for not helping Green get more open. Olynyk’s job, then, is to keep Chris Bosh away from Green; away from deflecting the pass. And Bosh…well…
Bosh could NOT have come closer to tipping that, which would have started the clock and ended the game.
But, once again, all’s well as ends well, and Bosh juuust missed. Green’s ensuing 3-pointer (complete with a degree of difficulty of 10 out of 10) gave the Celtics their biggest win of the season — a distinction which in all likelihood will stand through all 82 games.
There will be a variety of overreactions on both sides. Boston’s fans will likely point to this as evidence that the young Celtics are improving (which they certainly are) and that they are playoff contenders (which they almost certainly aren’t). Boston’s…not-fans will derisively try to write this off by saying it was a once-in-a-season win (probably true) and that Miami was on auto-pilot (also true), as well as pointing out how Boston is sabotaging its tanking efforts by winning right now (meh).
There’s another way to look at this game without overreacting. If you think Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens or any of Boston’s decision-makers wanted the Celtics to lose this game, I think you’re wrong. There’s a balance to strike between losses and the development of young players, and winning a few games at the beginning of a season helps strike it. When the season hits full swing and the better teams begin to sharpen their teeth, Boston will likely begin to pile up losses. But for now, watching the Celtics learn to execute is worthwhile, and seeing Stevens win a game of rock-paper-scissors against a talented, experienced coach like Erik Spoelstra is definitely something worth cheering for.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.