If you want to explore the x’s and o’s behind Doc Rivers’ genius play-calling skills, I suggest reading Sebastian Pruiti’s piece. If you want to see Rivers described as “the Picasso of the dry erase board”, read Chris Forsberg’s. Actually, read them both; your time will be well spent. But those final sets, as brilliant as they were, weren’t the only times the Celtics showed off good coaching and smart play. In the fourth quarter, with Game One on the line, Doc’s team earned a win in part by exposing two of New York’s weaknesses.
You’ll read a lot about Rivers’ ingenuity today, and Rivers certainly spent last night’s fourth quarter pantsing Mike D’Antoni. If I wanted to relay a tired joke, I’d call him Mike ‘Antoni, since he obviously has no ‘D.’ But I’m not that corny (okay, yes I am, but still), so I’ll call him D’Antoni. Either way, Doc abused him with brass knuckles.
There was the inbounds play, which resulted in an alley oop that took only 0.4 seconds off the clock. There was the final play, when Ray Allen (only the greatest three-point shooter in history) was freed for an open look. There was D’Antoni (or maybe you prefer ‘Antoni, or “the coach whose teams never play a lick of defense, although they did play quite hard last night”) calling his final timeout with 37 seconds left, leaving his team out of sorts when they had one final shot to tie or win the game. (To be fair, the Celtics were also all out of timeouts, and would have been in trouble if the Knicks had scored or Ray Allen had missed his three. They had used their final timeout while struggling to inbound the ball before the three. But I digress.) You remember all those plays, and you likely read plenty about them this morning.
What will get lost was Rivers’ willingness to let his stars make simple plays, especially when they had mismatches. Specifically, the Celtics identified two weak links they must have spotted either in game film or during earlier portions of the game.
One of the two simple plays the Knicks had trouble defending was Paul Pierce coming off a pick and roll. The Knicks switched the play every time, leaving Pierce defended by a big man. Armed with that knowledge, the Celtics went back to the well three separate times in the fourth quarter. Pierce scored on two of them.
Looking forward, Pierce’s shot-making ability will likely prove crucial during Boston’s title run. Last year, when Pierce nursed an injured knee that nobody knew about, he struggled to take Boston home, and Boston, predictably, failed to close out many games down the stretch. (Note: The team’s flaw reared its head at the worst possible time. And I am currently contemplating lighting my head on fire and jumping out the window. I’m not sure in what order.)
But now Pierce’s mobility his mobility has returned, and his shot-making ability has come with it. On Boston’s first time running the big-on-small pick-and-roll, Pierce hit a jumper over the outstretched arms of Amare Stoudemire. It was a good contest, but Pierce still had enough space to get the shot off comfortably.
The next time the Celtics ran the big-small pick-and-roll for Pierce, the Knicks again switched, except this time the unlucky defender was Ronny Turiaf. Pierce dribbled closer to the basket and stopped on a dime, using his quickness to create space for the jumper. Another bucket.
When Boston ran the same basic play a third time, Pierce finally missed. But the Knicks had again switched, and Pierce had again gottten a good look at the basket. I don’t know whether Mike D’Antoni told the Knicks to switch (in fact, I don’t know whether he discusses defense at all—*zing*), or whether Carmelo Anthony simply refused to work hard enough to get over the screen. Either way, when the Knicks switch in that situation, they are at Pierce’s mercy. They can only pray for a miss.
Pierce wasn’t the only Celtic who took advantage of New York’s defensive shortcomings. Because the Knicks spent a lot of time playing smaller shooting guards (Toney Douglas, for one), Ray Allen was able to show off his oft-overlooked, yet surprisingly polished post game. When Landry Fields had defended Allen, Allen could barely get a shot off. But Fields was stapled to the bench for most of the second half, allowing Allen to take advantage of the midgets. As my friend would say when a smaller defender guarded him, “Mouse in the house.”
First, Allen put Douglas in the blender. Sorry, little guy. You can’t stop this. Not without some stilts, at least.
Because Douglas was afraid Allen could shoot over him, he tried fronting him. With no backside help, that didn’t work either. A simple lob from Rondo led Allen straight to the hoop, where he made an and one.
If Chauncey Billups misses Game Two, the Knicks will obviously miss his presence. But one positive side effect will be less Toney Douglas at shooting guard; in that case, against a Celtics team that thrives on reading mismatches and taking advantage of them, the less, the better.
The best coaching doesn’t always come in the form of flawless late-game sets. Sometimes, the simple plays work just as effectively. Two New York weaknesses, five Boston possessions, nine Celtic points. And with that, along with some gritty defensive play, the Celtics had set the table for Ray’s last-minute heroics.