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A Tale of Two Plays: Breaking Down Boston’s Late-Game Sets Against Miami

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.

Wallace’s late layup

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.

Green’s game winner

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.


  • http://finest.se/luisagoethe Luisa

    Thanks for the break down, I unfortunately had no time to watch the game so it is good the get a summary

  • -jp

    I think the degree of difficulty was closer to a 17 out of 10, but thats picking nits. I agree that winning a few early games will help develop the team but not hurt (?) the tanking effort (?). Only a few teams in the league really have it going right now (Pacers) so this is the most level playing field that bad teams, like Boston, will have. Either way, great win, and a fun game all around.

  • hax

    Since the celtics aren't on national tv until december(wtf league?) I was following along on espn gamecast. It said wallace fouled wade with 0.0 left, so I turned off my tablet and went on with my night. Later on while watching Alabama and LSU, I see on the bottom 'Green GW FG', wonder what I just saw, run to my laptop and see the epic victory.

    • CelticsBIG3

      I went outside to have a smoke and I came back in as they were setting up to inbound the ball wondering what the hell happened that the Heat had scored zero points off the Wade free throws. At one point, NBA.com listed the game on the page as "110 – 108 Miami Heat – FINAL"

      • swissflix

        This is why i quit smoking :)

        • CelticsBIG3

          Good call

  • buh scti

    it is going be 16-66 instead of 0-82
    Big fucking difference 😀

    • hax

      1 game out of 2nd place without Rondo. 😀

      • buh scti

        did not know that NBA season ends in beginning of November

        • CelticsBIG3

          Why are you here? Why do you give a shit? I will never understand the point of trolling. Are you such a fucking pale skinned computer geek that you literally waste enough time of your life to read every article on this site about a team that you don't like just to make stupid comments on them? Are you really that lonely that your life sucks enough to get such a thrill out of trolling? Go out and socialize with other people; TRY to find a girlfriend; any thing to validate your existence. What a freagin nerd.

          • buh scti

            GO FUCK YOURSELF
            Celtics are irrelevant to NBA for now even to hate

          • CelticsBIG3

            Fortunately for me, when I "go fuck myself" its by choice. For you its your life's destiny; it's be all AND end all. lol

  • ElRoz

    This Celtics team is young and really fun to watch. These guys can outran anybody…and they have talent and depth. They might be too good to end up with one of the worst records. But this is what need to be done it seems. I am not interested in seeing them win 35 games or even make the playoffs, as much as that would be fun to see them scare the heck out of other teams (is the next shot coming from Crawford? Green? Bradley? Rondo? Sully? Bass? Olynik? Lee?) … but they better end up with the worst or one of the worst records in the NBA. This is the draft we want. Once they get one of the top picks – the top – PLEASE – Danny will have plenty of trading chips + available money as well.

  • CelticsBIG3

    I just watched the layup game winner from the Cleveland game last year; NO ONE, NO ONE, celebrates harder than Jordan Crawford.

  • skeeds

    Great point about tanking. Yes, you need to be a fairly bad team for the option of tanking to be an actually logical strategy. Even then though, throwing in the towel for a whole season makes no sense. Look at the Bobcats, who have been drafting top-tier talent for 3-4 years now. You can keep doing that forever, but unless you establish a culture, then a) all your assets lose value, and b) all the young talent you bring in has trouble improving.
    Stevens needs to keep pushing this group to play proper basketball, for all sorts of reasons.
    If this team proves too overachieving to tank, that might be a great plan B. The entirety of our roster is highly tradeable, and rebuilding via trade becomes a very viable option if all these kids keep raising their value.

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