Perhaps you missed it as you focused on Paul Pierce’s swoops to the tin, which were often finished with left-handed layups. It’s possible you were too busy wondering what in the world Chris Wilcox had eaten to fuel his 14-point, six-rebound, one-absurd-heat-check-that-airballed-by-a-mile-but-didn’t-matter-much-because-it-was-his-only-mistake-of-the-night performance.
Or maybe you did notice the Indiana Pacers’ heinous outside shooting, as Frank Vogel’s team shot 1-19 from behind the arc, including 18 consecutive misses to finish the game.
If the Pacers shot another 19 threes, it’s almost assured they would miss fewer than 18, even if the ghost of Bruce Bowen stood underneath them, waiting with his foot extended in hopes of twisting every goddamn ankle on the Indiana roster. But don’t take that to mean the Boston Celtics had no part in forcing Indiana’s 5.3 percent three-point shooting. Boston rotated quickly, making an effort to contest shots even when blocking them was impossible.
Perhaps the best example of Boston’s dogged effort to defend its perimeter came with the Celtics leading 90-80, the game well out of hand and less than a minute to play. Brandon Bass made an initial mistake, gambling while trying to steal a pass, which allowed David West to penetrate into the paint. Bass did not sulk after his error, sprinting full bore at an open Paul George to contest his three. Bass did not block the shot. He did not force an impossible attempt. But he did add a little discomfort to George’s release, perhaps contributing to the miss.
Or maybe Boston’s defensive effort could best be described by one possession in the third quarter, when Avery Bradley dug to help Paul Pierce defend Danny Granger in the post, then sprinted 12 feet to recover in time to contest a Darren Collison jumper, while Marquis Daniels sprinted from the other direction just in case he could beat Bradley to Collison.
When the Celtics are defending at their finest, they have always been characterized by a determination to leave no shot wide open. Watching all 19 three-point attempts by Indiana on Synergy sports, I determined that 14 of the threes were contested. Three of those were tightly contested, Boston forcing Indiana into miserable shots, and two additional threes were unfathomable pull-ups by Danny Granger.
Of the five shots the Celtics did not contest, one was designed that way, with Dahntay Jones left open in the corner while Boston’s defense metaphorically knelt ten feet away from him and prayed that he would shoot. On all but one of the other uncontested shots, the Celtics were either chasing Pacers around screens to attempt a contest, or a Celtic could be seen in the Pacers’ peripheral vision, sprinting from across the court in a late (but still noted) attempt to force a tougher three.
View an example of what I deemed an uncontested shot in transition, where the Celtics defended the basket as they were supposed to, then attempted to close out to George before he could fire while unmolested:
Defending the three-point arc is generally considered one of the two most important aspects of an NBA defense, along with guarding the painted area. The Celtics won’t always force teams into 1-19 long-distance shooting, but if they continue to exert such effort to hunt down shooters, Boston’s defense will remain stout like it has been during the team’s current four-game winning streak.