Doc Rivers recently told the media that during the playoffs, he is considering using a lineup that includes Paul Pierce and Jeff Green both starting at shooting guard and small forward. This was obviously a revelation, since what would presumably be the playoff starting lineup (Bradley-Pierce-Green-Bass-Garnett) has seen about 13 minutes together in the regular season so far. The lineup would be a study in how much the regular season matters to developing chemistry for certain teams, but it would also be an interesting experiment, and one part of that duo seems to be working extremely well together: Paul Pierce and Jeff Green.
While we haven’t seen much of a Bradley-Pierce-Green-Bass-Garnett lineup, we have seen a pretty fair amount of Pierce-Green-Bass lately, which can give us an indication as to how the offense will work in the playoffs. We know what Brandon Bass will do in that lineup, since his game, while sometimes very effective, is also very limited. Expect mid-range jumpers on jumpers on jumpers.
But Pierce and Green have been working together to get solid shots a lot over the past couple of weeks. Let’s take a look at a few of the more common ways they work together.
In this first play, we see Pierce and Green running a simple screen play to force a mismatch.
Jeff Green and Paul Pierce force a switch
Green runs from the left block to the weak-side 3-point line, and as he moves past, Pierce sets a sort of screen. I say “sort of” because while Pierce doesn’t really set himself, the motion acts the same way; Charlie Villanueva switches onto Green near the 3-point line.
This creates a more extreme version of the mismatch we saw when Green detonated on the Miami Heat a couple of weeks ago. Time and time again against Miami, Green took advantage of slower fours guarding him, but that was against more solid defenders like Shane Battier. Here, Green gets Villanueva, who is the very definition of a minus defender. One would almost rather see him take Villanueva to the basket (where he might earn a 3-point play opportunity, since he’s likely to beat Villanueva off the dribble), but instead he gets Villanueva on his heels, steps into the shot and knocks it down.
That play was actually an example of how Pierce and Green work together as the three and four. The next play shows the kind of mismatch that gets created when Paul Pierce is playing the two. Notice that the Knicks are actually playing their tiny lineup, in which they have two points guards (Ray Felton and Pablo Prigioni) and Iman Shumpert covering Brandon Bass.
Paul Pierce gets a mismatch against Ray Felton
This is a telling matchup because it’s entirely possible that the Celtics will face New York in the first round, and the Knicks really like their tiny lineup. The Celtics can exploit it though, as we see here: Raymond Felton, who is not a good defender, gets a bit of a lineup nightmare covering a much larger Pierce. Pierce misses the jumper in this play, but you can see that Felton can’t keep Pierce from getting exactly where he wants to go.
The Knicks aren’t stupid, and they’ve seen Pierce’s elbow jumper go in against them enough to realize that if Felton is left on an island against Pierce, he is going to get destroyed. So on this next play, they bring help.
Around the horn jumper by Jeff Green
Pierce begins with his back to the basket, and Felton initially tries to deny the pass. But Bradley gets Pierce the ball, and Felton is isolated against Pierce with his back to the basket. Wisely, Pablo Prigioni comes over to double. Notice that Jeff Green is on the other side of the floor, and notice that the Knicks currently have Carmelo Anthony playing the four and guarding Brandon Bass, with Kenyon Martin (who looks confusingly like Carmelo Anthony in blurry screenshots) guarding Wilcox down low.
The only thing Pierce needs to do to create a good shot for a teammate is get a pass away to Bradley, and he does. Bradley then swings to Bass, who swings to Green in the corner. This forces New York’s entire defense to re-arrange itself and causes a considerable amount of confusion.
Green seems to consider getting Wilcox the ball against Prigioni, but Wilcox seems to think that Jeff Green against Kenyon Martin is a solid enough matchup to back out of the lane and let Green do his thing. Much like the first play, against Villanueva, Green simply dribbles until Martin is on his heels and rises for a long two, which he hits.
Green and Pierce are a tough duo when they work together on the same side of the floor, as well. In this play, Green simply beats his man, and Pierce’s defender can’t recover in time to do anything about it.
Jeff Green post-up slam
Pierce inbounds the ball to Green, who has his back to the basket. Green turns, faces up and drives to the hoop. Anthony doesn’t really do much to stop him, and Shumpert shows help, but he’s between a rock and a hard place and Pierce moves out behind the 3-point line in the corner. This gives Green an easy kick-out option, so Shumpert gives up the easy slam.
Sometimes it’s even easier. Sometimes it’s simply the fact that JR Smith is your defender, and nobody is quite sure what he is doing.
Jeff Green blow-by dunk
When your defender has his back to you as you are receiving the pass, there’s a solid chance you’ll be able to score.
After realizing that they couldn’t stick Ray Felton on Pierce, the Knicks assigned Iman Shumpert to him for much of the game, pitting Anthony against Green, like you saw in the video above. But here, the Celtics run a pick-and-roll beyond the 3-point line and, once again, force the Knicks into a mismatch.
Pierce clears out for Jeff Green iso
Initially, Boston seems to want to get Pierce the ball against Shumpert in the post, but Courtney Lee quickly looks that off and passes it back to Avery Bradley, who moves to his left around a screen from Green. Meanwhile, Pierce clears out along the baseline, leaving the right side of the floor wide open. Felton makes a mistake here (try to hide your shock) and goes over the screen 30 feet from the basket.
This means that Carmelo Anthony can either go back to Green and let Bradley drive to the basket, trusting his interior defenders, or he can switch onto Bradley and let Felton chase Green. He opts for the latter. Earlier, when Pierce was isolated against Felton, we knew the Knicks were in trouble because Pierce is stronger and craftier than Felton. Here, Felton is simply overmatched by Green’s length and athleticism. Green drives to the basket, and Felton hacks at him, allowing an and-one.
Pierce’s role in the play above seems trivial at first glance, but he was being guarded by arguably New York’s best perimeter defender, and by clearing out to the opposite corner, he took Shumpert out of the play, allowing Green the lane to the hoop.
In the next play, Pierce’s role is anything but trivial. It’s also the most basic way the Pierce/Green duo can interact.
Paul Pierce drive and kick for Jeff Green 3-pointer
This requires very little explanation, as it’s a kind of play we see over and over again in the NBA. Pierce acts as the point guard, driving to the basket and drawing Green’s defender, Tolliver, who tries to draw a charge. The charge isn’t called, and Green gets a wide-open 3-pointer, which he hits. This should come as no surprise: In the last six games, Green is shooting about 64% from 3-point range.
You get the idea. There are a ton of ways, both obvious and subtle, in which Pierce and Green have been complimenting each other offensively. We may not have seen much of Boston’s projected playoff starting lineup yet during the regular season, but we’ve gotten a good look at what two pieces of that puzzle might do together. And frankly, at least in the case of those two pieces, it looks pretty encouraging.
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