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John Schuhmann

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LeBron James and the Heat have been efficient in the paint, but Boston's defense has gotten better, too.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Celtics sing similar tune in Game 5 with lock-down defense


Posted Jun 6 2012 12:18PM

MIAMI -- The Boston Celtics are on the brink of their third trip to The Finals in the last five years. And as usual, they have their defense to thank for it.

Well, the Miami Heat did score 30 points in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, and it was key offensive rebounds and big 3-point shots that secured the win for the Celtics. But they put themselves in position to win by allowing the Heat to score just 36 points over the second and third quarters.

Overall, this was a defensive victory, much like Game 4 in Boston. And after two uncharacteristically bad defensive games to start this series, the Celtics have dug in and shut down Miami's offense to take control of the series.

Celtics efficiency, Conference finals
Games Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Games 1-2 86.7 103.8 114.4 -10.6
Games 3-5 91.7 102.1 94.7 +7.4
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Celtics have contested shots better, rebounded better and forced more turnovers over the last three games. But the biggest key defensively has been keeping the Heat off the free-throw line. After shooting 70 free throws in the first two games, Miami has shot just 69 in the last three.

Celtics defense, Conference finals
Games Opp2PT% Opp3PT% DREB% OTO% OppFTA Rate
Games 1-2 55.8% 29.4% 68.7% 12.1 .452
Games 3-5 48.6% 29.0% 78.3% 15.0 .289
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OTO% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opp FTA/FGA

The Heat have actually increased the percent of their shots coming from the paint in the last three games. And they've been just fine near the basket, shooting 68 percent from the restricted area in the three losses. But their shooting from outside the restricted area has been in decline, from 37 percent in the two wins to 32 percent in the three losses.

LeBron's disappearing jumper

LeBron James is partly responsible for the struggles from outside. As usual, James is a monster near the basket. In the regular season, he ranked third in shooting percentage among the 213 players who attempted at least 100 shots in the restricted area, converting on 73.8 percent of his 427 attempts there.

And in this series, James is right at his regular season number, shooting 34-for-46 (73.9 percent) in the restricted area. But his shots from the outside have come and gone. And in the last two games, he has shot just 6-for-27 from outside the restricted area.

LeBron James shooting outside the restricted area
Game FGM FGA FG%
Game 1 5 13 38.5%
Game 2 4 13 30.8%
Game 3 10 19 52.6%
Game 4 2 11 18.2%
Game 5 4 16 25.0%
Total 25 72 34.7%
This was not Paul Pierce's night, until...

Nobody (except Mickael Pietrus) shot particularly well from the outside on Tuesday. The teams combined to shoot a miserable 11-for-51 (22 percent) from mid-range.

The worst shooter in the series has been Paul Pierce, who shot an atrocious 1-for-10 from mid-range in Game 5 and was 15-for-60 (25 percent) from outside the paint in the series ... until he hit the Video pull-up, left-wing 3-pointer that put the Celtics up by four in the final minute.

Success and failure from the corners

Pierce is actually a perfect 3-for-3 from the corners in this series. And those are the spots that seem to be the key for the Celtics against the Heat.

Boston shot an incredible 16-for-21 on corner 3-pointers in beating the Heat three out of four times in the regular season. And in this series, they've seemingly gone as their corner 3s have gone in. In their two losses, the Celtics were 2-for-8 from the corners. And in their three wins, they've shot 12-for-24.

Meanwhile, the Heat have been pretty abysmal from the corners, except for one night. In their Game 2 win, the Heat shot 7-for-14 on corner 3-pointers. But in the other four games, they're 3-for-30.

Miami was a little below average on corner 3-pointers in the regular season, shooting 36.3 percent from those spots. And the Celtics ranked second (behind Chicago) in defending the corner trey, allowing their opponents to shoot just 30.9 percent. Still, 10-for-44 over five games is pretty awful.

Boston's big two

For the series, Pierce is a minus-10, meaning that the Celtics have been outscored by 10 points in his 206 minutes on the floor. Ray Allen is a minus-4, also in 206 minutes. And Brandon Bass is a minus-32 in 143 minutes. As a unit, the Celtics' starters have been outscored by six points in 85 minutes together.

But as long as Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are on the floor, the Celtics are in good shape. Garnett is a plus-23 in 189 minutes. Rondo is a plus-5 in 231. And a look at the numbers confirms what you'd probably expect. Garnett is the key to the Boston defense, while Rondo is the key to the offense.

Celtics efficiency with Garnett and Rondo on/off the floor
Players on/off floor Minutes OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Garnett on 189 103.2 96.3 +6.8 +23
Garnett off 61 101.6 120.7 -19.2 -25
Rondo on 231 104.3 102.5 +1.8 +5
Rondo off 19 81.7 99.8 -18.1 -7
Garnett & Rondo both on 174 105.2 96.1 +9.1 +29
Miami's big two

The Heat have been even better when their big two -- James and Dwyane Wade -- has been on the floor together. But Miami has been pretty terrible when one of them has sat down...

Heat efficiency with James and Wade on/off the floor
Players on/off floor Minutes OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
James & Wade both on 195 111.2 97.9 +13.2 +48
One of the two on 53 69.7 119.9 -50.1 -46

All numbers courtesy of NBA.com/stats.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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