Throughout the preseason, we brought you stories about Jason Terry being awesome. “He got a leprechaun tattooed underneath his Finals trophy? AWESOME!” “He wants to kill the Heat?! WHAT A GUY! And the Lakers?!! BEST DUDE EVER!!”
But in the first three games of the season, we didn’t see much from JET on the court. Sure, he scored 10 points against Milwaukee on efficient shooting (4-6 from the field, 2-2 from 3-point range), but honestly, Boston didn’t really bring him on board just for efficient shooting. The C’s brought him on board to be a spark plug off the bench, unconditionally and irrationally confident. The Celtics need him to feel comfortable jacking up shots with abandon because few players in the NBA do that better than he does. He’s necessary because instead of pulling back and passing on open opportunities when he is shooting poorly, he shoots himself back into a groove. At least, that’s how Terry was in Dallas.
Last night, the Dallas version of Jason Terry arrived in Boston.
See, Jason Terry doesn’t just get buckets. He gets BIG buckets. To use a badly overused phrase, Terry isn’t afraid of the big moment, or perhaps more accurately, he isn’t afraid to take a necessary shot late in a close game. A big shot, for example, like this one:
The Celtics were reeling at this point, having given away yet another double digit lead. On this play, Pierce wasn’t able to shake his defenders for a shot and was forced to pass it back to Terry with just seven seconds on the shot clock. Terry waived off any help, got Pierce’s defender to switch onto him and kinda-sorta created some space. But even the space he got is negligible, half a step perhaps, and it was quickly negated by the longer arms of his defender. In short, this is just a very difficult shot that only a very confident player could make. Terry is supremely confident, and he rose, fired and hit.
But isolation plays at the end of the shot clock aren’t the only reason Terry is in Boston. One thing I noticed from watching video of Terry in Dallas was that many of his spot-up opportunities were a product of his defender helping on Dirk Nowitzki. When his defender collapsed Terry would shift slightly sideways along the three point arc so that his defender would be out of position and momentarily disoriented when Dirk kicked the ball back to him, leading to an open three. “This will be a useful skill!” I reasoned. “Garnett often draws a double, so I suspect Terry will be utilized in Boston much the same way he was used in Dallas.”
Terry runs through a variety of screens clearly meant to get him an open shot while Rondo dribbles aimlessly at the top of the key waiting for Terry to complete his circuit and spring free. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the kind of play Doc used to run pretty consistently for Ray Allen.
There was a small twist to this particular play however, and it’s one that might not have been possible with Allen: Terry doesn’t shoot the ball right away. Instead, he makes an extra pass, one that eventually frees him up for a much better shot.
Notice that poor Bradley Beal literally gets screened by every player apart from Terry. After he has run through Brandon Bass, Paul Pierce AND a moving Jared Sullinger, he has stayed with Terry pretty well, so Terry dishes back to Rondo. But Rondo, seeing that Beal (probably understandably pleased with himself) hasn’t stayed glued to Terry’s body after he dished the ball off, Rondo runs in front of Beal and sets an impromptu screen for Terry while scooping him the ball for an open three.
It should be noted that Terry is neither as good a 3-point shooter as Allen, nor is he as adept (yet) at coming off Doc’s labyrinth of complicated screens cleanly for an open 3-pointer. Allen was a master at skirting each screener’s shoulder so closely that they almost touch, forcing his defender to duck, dive and lose track of him. After Bass catches Beal cleanly, Beal shoots the gap past Pierce and is left with just Sullinger. But Terry runs several feet away from Sullinger toward the corner. Beal still gets screened, but Sullinger’s defender is able to help, preventing the easy shot and allowing Beal to get around Sullinger and switch back onto Terry. Coming off the screen more cleanly may have made the original look a cleaner one.
But where Terry IS an improvement over Allen is in his improvisation. You may have forgotten this after watching Ray slice through Boston’s defense like a scalpel through a cadaver in the opener (ugh), but in Allen’s time with the Celtics, he was surprisingly turnover prone when he put the ball on the floor to get to the hoop. His passes out of the lane were too often picked off or overthrown. His ball-handling was too often suspect.
Terry makes a good decision on this play. He passes back to Rondo but stays involved with the play, bouncing backward after dishing Rondo the ball and letting the three fly without hesitation when Rondo picks Beal off of him.
This was the first game in which we really saw plays being run for JET and not so coincidentally, it doubled as Terry’s apparent coming out party. In previous games, most of his baskets were either off isolation plays in which he created space for himself at the end of a broken possession or transition buckets. Not against Washington. Doc called plays for him and made him a part of the offense. A good decision, I might add, since the offense desperately need some variety, especially late in the game, as I wrote about here.
It’s understandable that it has taken some time to make Terry a part of the offense. Chemistry, as we are quickly learning with this group, doesn’t exactly happen overnight, and it would have been foolish to expect him to acclimate immediately. But Jason Terry feels like he’s finally arrived in Boston. Welcome, JET. We’ve been expecting you.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.