After spending much of the fourth quarter trailing by double digits last night, the Suns were starting to make a game out of a semi-blowout. Luis Scola had been fouled on consecutive possessions and converted three free throws, and the Celtics’ offense had been lackadaisical and seemingly uninterested in finishing the game. With 1:43 remaining, the lead was down to six.
“Two baskets,” I told my dog, who ignored me. “Two baskets should win it.”
Before the game reached the one minute mark, the Celtics iced the game with two easy baskets. One was a nice offensive set that led to an easy layup. The other was a direct result of some tough pressure defense. Let’s take a look at how they both came about.
Here’s the first play:
Often, Boston’s late game execution consists of Paul Pierce making a move and trying to score in isolation. Sometimes it’s effective, sometimes it isn’t, but given Doc Rivers’ strong ability to draw up a play, it often feels like Boston would have been better served drawing up a specialty play and running that instead. Here, however, it seems that the Celtics tricked Phoenix into thinking the play was an isolation set for Pierce. Take a look at how much attention Pierce gets when he drives past PJ Tucker.
It’s not REALLY clear if the play actually was an iso for Pierce or if there was some trickery involved, but the play begins like most Pierce isos. Terry and Rondo remove themselves from the play behind the 3-point line. After failing to get the ball over Markieff Morris, Pierce drives by Tucker and Morris, in a misguided attempt to help off Garnett, tries to get in front of Pierce as well but fails. Luis Scola comes off Jared Sullinger to defend the play as well, which he HAS to do since Morris and Tucker are both behind Pierce at this point. So as Pierce reaches the baseline, he is TRIPLE-teamed, and both of the extra defenders have their backs to their men. This dooms the Suns, since despite the extra defenders, they haven’t trapped (or even stopped) Pierce. Sullinger, once again showing his high basketball IQ, cuts straight down the middle of the lane, receives the pass and hits a little floater over Morris.
Up eight with about a 1:30 remaining, the Celtics probably could have put themselves in cruise control and still won the game if they prevented any 3-point baskets. But instead, they locked down on Phoenix and forced Jared Dudley into a tough running floater. As you watch this video, notice how short every pass between Phoenix players is.
By my count, there were two handoffs (essentially) and one short pass along the perimeter. Every other passing lane was filled with Boston bodies and hands so that as the shot clock began to wind down, Phoenix’s best offensive option was a running floater by Dudley.
Not included in the video above is the play immediately following the defensive stop. Jason Terry leaks out after Pierce grabbed the rebound. Rondo recognizes this because Rondo recognizes EVERYTHING on a basketball court, including the fact that four Phoenix players were under the basket trying to get a putback and the Celtics had a 2-on-1 fastbreak. Goran Dragic makes probably the best play he could, running at Rondo to try and prevent his full-court pass to Terry, but Rondo (somehow) realizes he is coming and immediately whips the ball ahead to Terry for the easy layup. Game, set, match.
What is perhaps most interesting about that defensive stand is the intense ball-pressure without Avery Bradley. Bradley is certainly a shot in the arm for the defense whenever he is on the floor, but plays like that would indicate that the defense is continuing to ratchet up the pressure even in his absence. If that is the case, it would be EXTREMELY encouraging going forward.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.