I’m thinking about making this segment a regular day-after-game thing. Let me know how you like it.
There are so many plays from last night’s game I could have broken down joyfully. The play that resulted in a Ray Allen three-pointer — the one that was preceded by approximately 553 passes in the span of a single shot clock and resulted in me tweeting, “Holy ball movement Batman!” — was one prime candidate, but there were plenty others to choose from.
Frankly, the Celtics put on an offensive clinic. They scored 112 points on only 93 possessions (an astronomical 120.4 points per 100 possessions) against what had been the league’s top defense. (Not anymore, suckas.)
The C’s did a lot of beautiful things. Their offense was a pleasure to watch, with extra pass after extra pass bringing smiles to my face. Doc Rivers explained, “Tonight was the first night I thought we had complete trust in the next pass,” and that trust was evident throughout the entire game. But one play, which wasn’t even really a play at all but a secondary fast break, caught my eye more than any other.
7:11, first quarter – Carlos Arroyo missed a jumper from the left corner. Kevin Garnett rebounded the basketball, then threw an outlet pass to Rajon Rondo. Rondo dribbled down the left side of the court, but nobody was with him. He probed the defense, but there were no initial openings. Because he pushed the ball upcourt, though, Rondo and the Celtics were rewarded by a defense that didn’t have time to set up: the Heat were forced to switch.
Lebron James picked up Rondo in transition (no mismatch there), leaving Carlos Arroyo to defend Paul Pierce (huge mismatch there). Rondo bounced his dribble outside, offering space for him to work and a view to survey the court. He almost instantly noticed Pierce’s mismatch, which was easily evident. Rondo gave two little waves. The first was to Garnett, requesting Garnett to move to his left, which would gave Pierce space. The second wave was to Pierce, telling him to stay at the top of the key where he could operate.
Rondo then swung a pass to Garnett, who was in the process of giving Pierce space. Rondo’s intent was clear, even without words. He wanted Garnett to feed Pierce. Garnett did, of course, and Pierce had the ball in his sweet spot, just outside the free throw line, with a point guard defending him. Garnett spaced even farther away from Pierce, leaving Pierce on an island with Arroyo. Let’s call it Arroyo island. I don’t have stats on this, but to the naked eye Pierce seems like one of the league’s best at exploiting smaller defenders. He dribbled to his left, spun back to the middle of the floor and shot a 14-footer over the top of Arroyo. Money in the bank.
If you watched the play without an analytical eye, it would have seemed so simple. Pierce was the recipient of a mismatch and made an easy isolation move. Who cares?
But a lot of thought went into the simple play. Rondo’s role in orchestrating the bucket cannot be understated. He didn’t chalk up an assist when Pierce scored, but Rondo saw the mismatch and made sure Pierce was able to pick on Arroyo. The little things like that, rather than his obscene assist totals, are why Rondo’s start to this season so impressive. They are also why Doc Rivers told Jackie MacMullan that “the trust [Rondo's teammates] have in him is unbelievable.”
Also not to be overlooked was the unselfishness that went into this play. Rondo didn’t care that he wouldn’t get an assist, and Garnett didn’t care that he was simply getting the fuck out of Pierce’s way. They both saw that Pierce had the best opportunity to score and had no qualms about moving aside so that could happen.
One play, very simple. But that’s only if you barely watched.