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BOSTON – The Celtics weren’t too friendly with the painted area through the first six games of their series against Milwaukee. Saturday night during Game 7, however, they became best friends, and that relationship propelled the Celtics into the second round.
The Celtics controlled Game 7 from the opening tip thanks to their domination of the lane. They led for more than 44 of the 48 minutes of the contest while scoring 60 points in the paint.
That total was logged after Boston scored no more than 42 points in the paint during any of their previous four games of the series. Its 60 points in the paint matched the largest total accumulated by either team during the series.
“I just think that we simplified what we wanted to do offensively a little bit,” said Al Horford, who scored 11 of his 13 field goals from inside the paint.
“We were more specific running a certain amount of sets,” he said as he continued his explanation. “We weren’t all over the place. We ran specific sets and just made it simple for the guys to make simple reads.”
Boston sure made it look simple as it picked Milwaukee’s defense apart with an inside-out attack.
Pounding the paint was clearly a point of emphasis from the jump, as the first 12 points Boston scored from the field were all tallied from inside the paint. From dinger-rolls, to layups, to alley-oops, the Celtics were doing it all.
And while their previous box scores may not indicate it, the C’s claim that this style of play had been brewing in their system for quite some time.
“We’ve been attacking the paint and looking to kick out a lot,” said Terry Rozier, who tallied 26 points and nine assists. “The past three or four games we’ve been emphasizing that.”
That emphasis came to a head once Game 6 arrived. Boston scored only 36 points in the paint during that contest, but as the team reviewed the film afterward, it found something.
“We felt like we saw some more openings open up in Game 6,” Stevens said of the interior.
Once Game 7 arrived, they took advantage of those scoring pockets.
Boston’s players rolled hard and cut to the rim with purpose throughout the night, and when taking the ball off the dribble, the did so with poise and power. Such play produced 47 shot attempts from inside the paint, which accounted for 56 percent of the team’s overall shots. Most of those shots fell in, as the C’s converted upon impressive 63.8 percent on their attempts inside the lane.
What made things even more difficult for the Bucks defense was that after Boston established its presence inside the paint, it then began to capitalize on the open looks it found on the perimeter. The C’s made eight 3s during the second half alone after Milwaukee’s defense began to collapse to the lane.
“We balanced kicking out with scoring at the rim much better today,” Stevens commented. “It’s probably the best we did all series, which is a good thing.”
It sure is, because it was the key to unlocking a victory during Game 7 at TD Garden. The Celtics played with force while attacking the basket early and often. The Bucks had no answers for Boston’s interior attack, and by the end of the night, they had no answers for Boston’s perimeter play, either.
It took six games for the Celtics to produce a game tape that outlined their recipe for offensive success. They watched and learned from it just in time.
Boston realized it needed to get friendly with the paint. It finally did so Saturday night to spur a season-saving – and series-clinching – victory.