With 7:24 remaining in last night’s game, Kevin Garnett hit a jumper to cap a 9-0 Celtics run and give Boston an 80-74 lead. I hate to rehash bad memories, but I detailed every Celtics possession that came after. Just how poor was the C’s execution?
6:56, 80-74 Celtics lead: Marquis Daniels loses ball — This play started when Big Baby made a great effort to knock a rebound away from Dirk Nowitzki. Daniels picked the loose ball off the floor, passed it to Rondo and the Celtics were off and running. Rondo drove down the right wing, then shoveled a pass to the trailing Daniels. Daniels drove to the hoop against The $55 Million Man (Brendan Haywood) and simply had the ball knocked away.
The verdict: Rondo’s pass was the right one, and Daniels actually made a good decision to attack. The Mavericks made a nice play on the ball to keep him from scoring. Decent offense, better defense.
5:56, 80-74 Celtics lead: Rondo’s fadeaway jumper — The Celtics forced a shot clock violation and had another chance to extend the lead. Rondo began the play by running a pick-and-pop with Kevin Garnett. He passed to Garnett, who stepped out to the wing and tried to isolate Tyson Chandler. When a couple between-the-leg dribbles didn’t work out, Garnett tossed the ball back outside to Rondo. Rondo dribbled around aimlessly for the next nine seconds while his teammates tried unsuccessfully (and chaotically) to set screens for him. Finally, he resorted to a stepback, fadeaway, contested jumper. It missed.
The verdict: Once I titled this play “Rondo’s fadeaway jumper,” you should have known the execution was far from perfect.
5:26, 80-76 Celtics lead: Paul Pierce’s (first) missed jumper — Jason Terry scored to cut the Celtics’ lead to four, and the C’s walked the ball back downcourt. Pierce started with the ball at the top of the key, and Ray Allen ran over to ball screen Pierce’s defender. Pierce came off the screen with an open shot, which Shawn Marion contested at the very last second.
The verdict: Though Marion ultimately got his hand up, Pierce was open for a 17-footer — his bread-and-butter. He couldn’t turn the shot down. Sometimes, you just miss.
4:54, 80-78 Celtics lead: Paul Pierce’s (second) missed jumper — Dirk Nowitzki had just hit a vicious jumper in Glen Davis’s eyeballs, so the Celtics’ lead had been cut to two. After a timeout, Rondo walked the ball down the court. Glen Davis set a ball screen for Rondo, then sprinted to the wing to set a down screen for Pierce. Pierce curled around the screen slightly and, when he caught the pass with Marion off balance, Pierce decided to shoot. Brick.
The verdict: Bad shot. Pierce was technically kind of open. Marion didn’t get a hand up, and Jason Kidd waved his arm at the shot but I’m sure it didn’t affect the results. My problem with the shot? It was too early in the shot clock (13 seconds left). If Ray Allen had come off a screen for a quick catch-and-shoot, that’s one thing. But that isn’t Pierce’s game. He should have waited for a better look.
4:22, 80-78 Celtics lead: Ray Allen’s missed jumper – A long Jason Terry miss allowed the Celtics another opportunity to extend their lead. Sadly, they didn’t. Rondo started with the ball on the left side and half-assedly dribbled off a Garnett ball screen. The real action was designed for Ray Allen, sprinting around a Glen Davis down screen on the other side. Ray caught Rondo’s pass without a clean shot, and started to dribble to his left. Garnett tried to set a ball screen, but whiffed. Rondo offered Ray very little spacing on the left side of the court, so Ray almost had two defenders on him. Not that it mattered. He squared up (kind of) and shot an 18-foot fadeaway with eight seconds left on the shot clock. It missed.
The verdict: Poor execution, poor shot. Bad spacing, missed screens, bad shot selection. This play had everything. Everything, that is, except anything good.
3:47, 80-80 tie: Glen Davis’s turn to miss a jumper – Two made Dirk Nowitzki free throws had tied the game, so the Celtics entered their offensive possession with no more cushion. Rondo began the set by dribbling left off a Garnett screen. The Mavericks were forced into a switch, so Jason Kidd was left defending Garnett at the elbow while Rondo dribbled to the short corner with Tyson Chandler on his hip. Noting the switch, Rondo lobbed a pass back to Garnett. Instead of being aggressive and shooting over Kidd’s head, Garnett up-faked once and passed it back to Rondo. With nowhere to go and the set now broken, Rondo drove baseline. He threw a pass to Paul Pierce, who took two dribbles to the middle, drew two defenders and kicked out to Davis. Davis had a pretty open 20-footer from the top of the key (which has somewhat become his shot), but rushed the shot and front-rimmed it.
The verdict: So-so execution. Yes, I would have loved to see Garnett take advantage of the mismatch with Kidd. But the Celtics stayed patient and worked the ball to an open Davis. The shot wasn’t wide open, but he’s made the same look countless times already this season. I can’t fault the shot.
3:28, 80-80 tie: Rondo’s turnover — Nowitzki missed an easy jumper over the top of Davis, so the Celtics had yet another chance to take the lead. Instead, Rondo drove wildly to the hoop, ultimately coming to the conclusion, “Fuck, I have nowhere to go.” He tried to pass to Ray Allen in the corner, but Rondo was off balance and the pass found a Maverick instead.
The verdict: Ugly. Rondo’s better than that. And in case you’re keeping score at home, the Celtics just came away empty on seven straight possessions. Yes, seven.
3:13, 80-80 tie: Rondo’s and-one — Marion gave the Celtics an early Christmas present by missing an open eight-foot runner, so the Celtics had yet another opportunity to take the lead. Finally, they scored. (*Mock applause*) Of course, I wouldn’t exactly call it execution. Rondo leaked out, Garnett hit him with an outlet pass, and the and-one was easy as pie.
The verdict: So THAT’S how the Celtics have to score in the fourth quarter — just make sure there’s nobody on defense.
2:31, 83-82 lead: Rondo makes a jumper (wait, really?) – A strong Nowitzki take brought the Mavericks within one, so the Celtics looked to extend the lead. Paul Pierce came off a Glen Davis ball screen on the right wing. Davis rolled well and Kevin Garnett’s defender (Tyson Chandler) was forced to rotate so Davis didn’t have an easy layup. Instead of passing to Garnett and taking advantage of Dallas’s rotations, Pierce posted up Shawn Marion. He spun baseline and, forced under the basket, whipped a sidearmed pass to Rondo. Rondo caught it, faked a pass to Garnett and stepped into a 17-footer. Oddly enough, it actually went in.
The verdict: Not the shot the Celtics wanted, I don’t think. But they’ll take it. It went in, right?
1:58, 85-82 lead: Pierce makes a jumper — An ill-advised Jason Kidd pass left the Celtics with the ball and a chance to pad their lead. Rondo began the play with a swing pass to Ray Allen, but the real action was on the left side. Davis set a down screen for Pierce, who popped out to receive Allen’s pass. Allen set a ball screen on Pierce’s man (Marion), and Marion got stuck on the screen. A late Jason Terry contest was nothing but a small nuisance to Pierce, who drained the 16-foot jumper.
The verdict: Nice execution all the way around. The Celtics got Pierce an in-rhythm jumper in his wheelhouse. Can’t ask for much more than that. One problem? At the 1:58 mark the Celtics still hadn’t taken anything but a mid-range jumper (and the Rondo leak-out layup) since I started keeping track. Go to the hoop, fellas!
1:27, 87-84 lead: Pierce misses a lefty scoop (badly) — Dirk Nowitzki cut the lead to three with yet another tough take to the hoop, so the Celtics were nursing a three-point lead. Little did they know they would not score again. The Celtics tried to run the same play as the previous one, with Pierce coming around a Ray Allen ball screen. The Mavericks handled it better this time, and Pierce was left at the top of the key, isolated against Marion. He drove past Marion to his left, scooping a left-handed layup over the outstretched arms of Tyson Chandler. The shot badly missed. There was contact on the play, but it was nothing to complain about — the referees let the two teams play all game long.
The verdict: I like the mentality. Get to the hoop! Draw fouls! Win games! But Pierce has to go up stronger than that. If he had taken his time, squared up to the hoop and gone right at Chandler instead of trying awkwardly to avoid him, Pierce would have drawn a foul. Instead, he shanked a layup. Nice thought, poor finish.
0:56, 87-87 tie: Ray Allen misses a jumper — On the Mavericks possession, Jason Kidd dribble-penetrated and found a wide open Jason Terry on the perimeter. Splash. After Terry’s make, Rondo could be seen screaming at Ray Allen — something like, “Don’t help!” Anyway, the score was tied when the Celtics again possessed the ball. Rondo ran a pick-and-roll with Garnett just outside the free throw line, and Paul Pierce came off a flex screen on the baseline. The action was all misdirection, as the real play was designed to hit Ray coming off a screen to the baseline. Ray got free and got off a pretty good shot. Two men were flying at him, but that’s normal when Ray Allen shoots a jumper.
The verdict: Nice execution, decent shot. The shot could have been better (does anyone want to attack the hoop?), but who am I to complain about a decently open Ray Allen jumper?
0:37, 87-87 tie: Garnett misses good look — A terrific Rondo effort left the Celtics with a second-chance opportunity. Rondo quickly dribbled to the top of the key and passed to Pierce. Pierce iso’ed on Kidd, eventually picking up his dribble and pivoting around Kidd to the left. Tyson Chandler left KG (and his feet) briefly to help Kidd, and Pierce dumped a pass to Garnett. Chandler recovered well and contested the four-foot bunny, and Garnett missed it. Again, there was slight contact, but nothing to call in the fourth quarter of a close game.
The verdict: Great execution. Pierce worked the mismatch with Kidd into the middle of the lane, but he didn’t force a shot. He found Garnett pretty damn open, but Garnett simply missed. Shit happens.
0:03, 89-97 Celtics trail: Rondo missed three-pointer — Nowitzki hit a jumper in Glen Davis’s mug (why switch the cross screen Celtics? Why not let KG stick with Nowitzki?), and the Celtics trailed by two with 17 seconds remaining. Ray Allen came off two (almost non-existent) down screens on the weak side, which looked like a decoy. Rondo had the ball, and he worked a pick-and-roll with Pierce. I’m almost positive that the play was designed to force a Dallas switch and match Pierce against Kidd. That part worked. Rondo came off two more ball screens, and by that time Pierce had Kidd pinned on his back at the elbow. The team’s spacing wasn’t perfect (Pierce was almost right in front of Rondo), not by any means, but Rondo still could have hit Pierce at the elbow right in front of him. Rather than do that, Rondo saw himself wide open. The Mavericks had entirely declined to guard him, so Rondo let if fly. It missed.
The verdict: The execution wasn’t as bad as I originally thought. The end result that Doc Rivers wanted, I think, was Pierce at the elbow with Kidd defending. That could have worked perfectly, if Rondo hadn’t decided to let an ill-advised three fly. Some people defended Rondo’s choice to shoot the three. “He was open,” they said. “He needs to shoot that shot.” But this is Rajon Rondo, people! He of the 24.9% career three-point percentage! Mayor of Brick City! And there were still seven seconds left on the clock when he released it!
Rondo should have turned down the shot and found Pierce. Pierce had the mismatch the Celtics wanted.
0:00, 89-87 Celtics trail: Kevin Garnett missed fadeaway – Ray Allen rebounded Rondo’s miss, so the Celtics had one more opportunity. Allen tried to dribble the rebound outside and create something by himself, but the Mavericks had a foul to give. Jason Terry (very) wisely used it. What resulted from the ensuing inbounds pass was nothing more than a prayer. Doc Rivers designed a play, I think, for Pierce to get open in the corner. But Dallas employed Dirk Nowitzki (and his seven-foot, long-armed frame) to defend Rondo’s inbounds pass, and Rondo couldn’t deliver it to Pierce (who was actually pretty open). Garnett flashed to the ball, Rondo passed it to him, and Garnett’s rushed fadeaway from the corner hardly had a chance.
The verdict: Pierce was actually open in the corner, but Rick Carlisle made a great move to have Dirk cover the inbounds pass. Rondo simply couldn’t find a passing lane around Nowitzki’s length.
So there you have it, folks. Was it ugly? Yes. Painful? Of course. But the execution on the last two plays wasn’t actually as bad as you (or I) thought. In future close games, the Celtics should look to attack more vigorously. They settled for mid-range jumpers time after time and only got to the line one time in the final 7:24. They also completely abandoned the post game, which was a bit odd.
Finally, I can stop re-watching those plays. I think I puked all over myself about 25 times this morning.