Film Session: Celtics Game 1

The Miami HEAT will not be able to beat the Boston Celtics in the same manner they have already beaten the Boston Celtics.

That may sound counter-intuitive, but that’s how percentages function. As crucial as it was to Miami’s Game 1 victory, James Jones’ 25 points did not represent the most sustainable offense. The shots themselves were well-earned opportunities, but even on open looks, few players are going to 5-of-7 from three even once in a series, much less repeat the performance.

Then you have to consider that Jones, who averaged 0.9 free-throws per game this season, got to the line 10 times for 10 additional points, a total aided by the five technical fouls on the Celtics. And with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade hitting an assortment or step-back, pull-up jumpers throughout the game, Miami scored 73 of its 99 points outside of the paint, with just 24 of its 68 field-goal attempts coming inside.

Against the Celtics, the percentages are against those numbers being a foundation strong enough to support four playoff wins.

This notion goes both ways, of course. Chris Bosh isn’t likely to shoot 3-of-10 and score seven points again, nor is Ray Allen, incredible as he is, going to shoot 5-of-8 from deep every time out. Then again, neither are Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo going to combine for 6-of-19 shooting with any consistency.

You could go on and on this way, to the point where your brain says, “Hey, Turbo, enough with the variables already”. And in a way, your brain would be right. So many things change, so many things that, by simple probability, shouldn’t happen do occur and vice versa, it can be almost a fruitless endeavor singling out the short shelf-life minutia. After all, it’s nearly impossible to win a championship without the improbable, and a little luck.

So, what’s the point? The point is that though they don’t always flow into an enticing storyline, the best indicators in a playoff series as the aspects of a performance that are or could be sustainable. Oftentimes, these are matchup advantages, but ask any coach and they’ll tell you one thing: defense.

With Miami swarming, the Celtics shot 42.7 percent from the field and 26 points in the paint, scoring three fewer points per 100 possessions than is their norm. Boston was also held to 0.64 points per possession in 11 Isolation sets, 0.4 PPP on 10 post-ups and 0.94 on 16 transition opportunities – the Celtics average 1.18 points on fast-breaks.

Luck will always be a factor with a one-game sample size, but combine those numbers with the defense you see below, and Miami, as it has all season, has something to rely on.

Starting Point Guards

One of the major talking points prior to this series was how Miami would handle Rajon Rondo. Well, through one game rondo has put up eight points, seven rebounds, seven assists and 0.5 points per possessions on 3-of-10 shooting in 32 minutes.

There are two significant factors here that act as disclaimers. First, Rondo was in foul trouble for much of the first half. Second, for intangible reasons, Rondo is one of the toughest players to project, game-to-game, in the entire league.

But even when he was on the court, the HEAT did a nice job keeping Rondo out of the middle of the floor. Rondo still got his points in transition, but he was never allowed a comfortable hoop, forced to twist and contort his way around the defenders in pursuit. And Miami has done its homework on him, too. Before Game 1, Joel Anthony admitted he knew about Rondo’s behind-the-back fake he likes to use coming across the lane. During the game, when Chris Bosh was caught hedging on a screen-roll and lost Garnett slashing to the rim, Bosh sniffed out the ensuing alley-oop which Rondo throws so often to his power forward, and the ball was swatted out of bounds.

And though he wouldn’t say either way, Mike Bibby seemed to know that Rondo prefers to finish with his right hand, even from the left side of the basket, as seen in the below video.

The final possession that video is important, too, as Bibby was able to stop the ballhandler coming off a Rondo pick and still recover to keep Rondo from getting an easy pass in the lane.

Rondo shot 1-of-6 while Bibby was on the floor, 0-of-4 in the restricted area, with many of those minutes coming in the first shift of the game. Foul trouble help keep Rondo out of rhythm in Game 1, but it was Bibby who helped put him out of rhythm in the first place.

The Importance of Being Timely

One of the most popular axioms of basketball is that it is a game of runs. As such, we tend to discuss individual games by the runs that are made. This team got off to a quick start, that team made a second-quarter push, then someone closed well in the fourth quarter.

But what we don’t speak about as often are the plays that put a stop to the momentum. This can be a string of defensive possessions or it can be a big shot, as long as it prevents the point differential from swinging too far in one direction.

In Game 1, Miami was a team of run-stoppers. Consider the following sequences:

-In the second quarter, the Celtics get within four on Delonte West putback. Boston’s next time down the floor, James Jones draws a charge, followed by a James step-back three-pointer that, while a low percentage shot, re-extended the lead and settled the situation.

-In the third, Pierce hits fast-break layup to get Boston within seven. Two possessions later, James soft pull-up in lane followed by a foul-line jumper.

-Again in the third, Boston is down eight after Ray Allen hits right corner three. Then, Jones runs off a pindown with Garnett chasing him, and hits three from the right wing.

-In the fourth, Pierce and Jones get double technicals. On the very next possession, Wade weaves an alley-oop over multiple defenders, for LeBron.

-With less than four minutes to play Boston gets backs within eight after a pair of Allen threes. Miami’s next possession was great offensive possession, getting Bosh an open jumper.

Now that you’ve considered those possessions, go ahead and watch them:

The smile of Lady Fortune helped on some of these plays, to be sure, but this is where we have to dip back into the narrative realm. Every time the Celtics made a push, the HEAT had something different to push back with, from spectacular plays to half-court offense. As physical as Miami played, as aggressive as it was, does this signal that they’ve gained some sort of mental edge?

Maybe that’s nonsense. No mental willpower is going to make a step-back three a higher-percentage shot than it already is. But if there is anything tangible there at all, anything sustainable from game-to-game and city-to-city, then it could be just as important as the defense.

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