Cleveland-Boston breakdown in serious depth

My homey Chair—a fan of the Cs—spent way too much time looking at last night’s game. From the comments: I’ll add my thoughts in bold:

I’m not too too worried about last night’s game for 5 reasons:

1) They played great defense for 3 quarters. They never let Cleveland put them away and they came up with a lot of stops. Cleveland only shot at 45.5%, so it wasn’t like the Celtics gave them twenty open shots or anything. Boston should always shoot better than 38.6%. (Agreed, the Celtics probably won’t shoot that badly at home. Not sure why they couldn’t get key stops in the fourth.)

2) Boston got to the line 26 times, Cleveland only shot 18 free throws. Additionally, Boston’s free throw percentage was .769 while Cleveland’s was .667. If they continue to take it to the rack and play aggressively, they will improve these numbers. (I disagree here—I don’t think there’s a lot of room for improvement on the free throw differential.)

3) If you classify shot selection as 0-9 Feet being a quality shot, 10-18 feet being midrange (ok) and 19+ feet being long range (not so great), here is how the Celtics shot selection broke down in each Quarter:

Q1: 0-9 = 9 10-18 = 6 19+ = 5

Q2: 0-9 = 8 10-18 = 5 19+ = 4

Q3: 0-9 = 4 10-18 = 2 19+ = 9

Q4: 0-9 = 2 10-18 = 10 19+ = 4

They got worse and worse as the game went on. How you justify 10 midrange shots and 2 close ones in the fourth quarter is beyond me. If you break it down by how many shots they hit from each range per quarter it becomes even more clear what they were doing wrong offensively:

Q1: 0-9 = 3 10-18 = 3 19+ = 2

Q2: 0-9 = 5 10-18 = 2 19+ = 0

Q3: 0-9 = 2 10-18 = 1 19+ = 4

Q4: 0-9 = 0 10-18 = 5 19+ = 0

The theory that they are encouraged by their bad habits (when the jumpers actually start falling, they become chuckers ala GState) seems to be true as they relied almost exclusively on the jump shot to win the game for them in the fourth quarter. From long range, they were 6 for 22 in the game. That is a pathetic 27% (and out of the 22, 14 of them were 3’s which they shot at 21%.).

The promising thing about these numbers is that a) they are going to shoot far better than 43% from close range most nights, a lot of layups weren’t falling and that percentage should go up to around 60-70% for Game 5. To put that in perspective, if they made 6 more easy shots than they did (and usually do), they would have been shooting 69% from close range with 12 more points and a W. However, even shooting at a crappy 43% from close range, had they taken 5 more shots from close range in the fourth, they likely would have scored 3 of them (even at a paltry percentage).

(The Celtics definitely struggle when they aren’t getting easy baskets, but there are easy 16 footers and easy three pointers just like there are difficult layups. But in general I agree that the Celtics shouldn’t settle for outside shots as much as they did. And I think fans say that about 90% of basketball teams in the world.)

4) They were statistically similar to Cleveland in a lot of important categories:

a) They rebounded well (Boston had 38, Cleveland had 42/Boston had 6 offensive rebounds, Cleveland had 8) consistently throughout the game. Even though they were slightly outrebounded, it wasn’t what lost them the game.

b) They committed 8 turnovers, Cleveland had 7 (Boston definitely stepped up here, as they killed themselves with rebounds in game 3).

c) Each team had 17 fouls, Boston didn’t get into foul trouble at all (and none of their players did) but they also HAD Lebron in foul trouble in the Second quarter and because they drove to the basket only 6 times in the second half, he escaped easily. This is something they will correct in game 5.

(Pierce just seems too tired to drive on LB on offense. That could change in the friendly nouveau Garden confines.)

5) Leon Powe only played 6 minutes and they were uninspired. As stupid as this might sound, Leon Powe is the biggest X factor for Boston and has been for the whole playoffs. Similar to the way Anderson Varejao is an X Factor for Cleveland. If you accept that Pierce/Allen/KG are going to be more or less equally matched offensively and defensively by Lebron/Szczerbiak/Ilgauskis and you consider the Rondo/Cassell vs. Delonte/Boobie matchup and Perkins/Wallace matchup to be a wash, it all comes down to the stars on the bench. And the only bench player for the Celtics who played worth a damn last night was PJ Brown. No Leon, no Posey, nothing good. And Varejao had some huge baskets in the fourth. Considering Sideshow Bob is the only player on their bench who consistently contributes and Boston has been known for their superb bench contributions and depth, this probably won’t happen again either (at least it shouldn’t).

(Doc Rivers should probably get some of the blame for that. It’s hard to get comfortable in six minutes, though the old basketball cliche is that starters win you road games and your bench wins at home.)

Anyway, those are my reasons and I’m sticking to them. It was easily the most winnable road game the Celtics have had all playoffs (if you remove game 4 in Atlanta where they twice lost a 10 point lead….I don’t even want to look at those numbers…still.) If they just took better shots in the fourth this game easily could have gone their way.

(I agree in some respects—I think Boston is still the favorite to win the series. But Lebron is the best player in the series (despite my eternal respect for KG) and he has to go off at some point, right? If he starts hitting outside jumpers like he did against the Stones last year and beats the Celtics at home, this thing might be over in six.

If I had to bet my lifesavings, I’d probably say Celtics in 7. But I don’t like the idea of better that eight bucks against Lebron.)

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7 Responses to “Cleveland-Boston breakdown in serious depth”

  1. Chair Says:

    I agree that Doc Rivers set up a terrible fourth quarter by throwing Big Baby out there to start. Insane. it should have been Powe. I also think Cassell should be banned from all road games as he takes bad shots consistently and doesn’t pass the ball.

    My main point about shot selection is that when the Celtics take it to the paint, they have a much better chance of drawing the foul (at the very least) and more often than not, a better chance of knocking down the shot. When you make 0 shots in the paint in the fourth quarter and draw 1 shooting foul you are basically fucking yourself.

    With that said, I wouldn’t say that they took a whole bunch of horrible contested shots and missed, I would have to breakdown game footage to get those stats, but I don’t think one team had more open looks than the other really. I know Rondo missed a few open shots, so did Pierce and Posey and Ray Allen. And so yeah, a lack of execution, regardless of wher eyou are shooting from, is going to lose the game. But when you’re in a close one, how can you justify NOT taking as many high percentage shots as possible?

    I also give Cleveland credit for tightening their presence in the paint in the second half, for sure, but again, i would need to see game film and break it down to know how many open vs. contested looks they had and also how many times they settled for jumpers with more than 8 seconds left on the shot clock.

  2. Kenny Says:

    Hmmm. That’s a detailed and interesting analysis. I’m not going to try and pretend to have a better understanding of the Celtics than your friend Chair, he clearly follows them closely, where i’ve maybe seen them play 20 times all season. But I agree with jerry’s comment that almost every team in the league would probably say they need to get to the paint more.

    I thought that the TNT postgame crew covered this pretty well, Boston is having a ton of trouble getting any easy baskets. Pierce is normally the guy that can create his own shot/ create opportunities for others, but I agree with Jerry he’s got all he can handle dealing with Lebron, who is getting closer and closer to becoming a really good defender. This is where Kobe has always surpassed him, he consistently locked down the other team’s best defender. Lebron is starting to take on that challenge more and more.

    But the rest of the Cavs deserve just as much credit and this is the problem I have with claiming that all boston needs to do is get in the paint more and their offense will miraculously click into high gear. And the only reason I have a problem with it is because I was making the same case a year ago when the cavs came back to tie our series up 2-2.

    Cleveland has turned themselves into a legitimately good defensive team. Varejao/ Big Ben/ Joe Smith are doing a good job on Garnett. Even Wally world is doing a good job on ray allen. I mean this is the exact same game plan they used to get to the finals last year. Slow the game down keep it low scoring and close in the 4th quarter and hope that Lebron can make enough big plays on his own, or get his teamates open shots and hope they make them. It’s not at all pretty, but it’s been pretty damn effective.

    I have more thoughts but they are going to ahve to wait for later.

  3. Pat Says:

    If game 5 is close in the fourth quarter the celtics might lose this series in 6. But it probably won’t be, it will probably be a big boston blowout.

  4. Kenny Says:

    Yea I definitely think that’s a possibility. Obviously that’s how the Atlanta series turned out. I just think the Cavs deserve some credit for playing the way they do.

    Clearly there is room for Boston to execute better offensively to get easy shots, but that’s what we kept saying about the pistons against the cavs last year, it just never happened.

    At the same time this is what playoff basketball in the east has been the last few years. It was interesting the TNT crew spent a bunch of time before the game last night lamenting the way cleveland runs its offense. But I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “ok we’re going to run different sets to try and get more easy baskets” The other team is going to be actively trying to prevent that from happening. I just really think this series has two really good defensive teams. One with Lebron and a weak offensive supporting cast, the other with 3 really good veterans but without that one guy who has been able to take over a game.

  5. sloan Says:

    kenny makes a good point—everyone complains about brown and how ugly the cavs offense is, but they have exactly one talented offensive player. big Z can be another when he’s feeling good and feeling it. i like delonte, he’s gritty, kind of rondo-like, but he’s immensely talented. boobie (i hate boobie) and wally world (has a hot wife) can knock down open perimeter looks.

  6. sloan Says:

    delonte is NOT immensely talented. but he does a lot with what he has.

  7. Chair Says:

    All though I agree that getting into the paint/getting high percentage shots is not easy against a solid defense (which Cleveland certainly is) my main point is that when teams stop taking those high percentage shots or stop looking to get penetration, they stop drawing fouls and start settling for iffy shots. Boston NEVER abandons taking high percentage shots at home. They haven’t done this “we only shoot jumpers in the 4th” thing all season. And I’m sure a lot of that boils down to them not having one person who continually steps up and takes it in (where KG was in the 4th on Monday is beyond me, especially considering he was shooting well all game and Pierce was not doing so hot).

    I agree that its not easy, but it seems like no one on Boston has been willing to do the shit work of driving it in and getting nailed in the fourth quarter on the road. I just don’t know how you can justify 2 shots from 9 feet or less in the fourth quarter (and knocking down 0 of them).

    With that said, I will be in row 11 behind the Celtics basket tonight (How else could one days salary last a night-time?) and I’m sure I’ll be able to do a positive breakdown tomorrow morning.

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