A Disconcerting Loss
Posted by Zach Lowe on Nov 21, 2009
Pace: 90 possessions (slow)
Offensive Efficiency: 87 points per 100 possessions (well beyond league worst)
Defensive Efficiency: 93 points allowed per 100 possessions (league best)
There are regular season losses you can dismiss as insignificant because, you know, it’s the regular season. This is not one of them, at least not for me. Let’s just say it: The Celtics offense looked overmatched at times against the Magic. And this is a top-10—maybe even top 5—offense in the NBA. But tonight, they just could not get easy looks. And I’m sorry, Jeff Van Gundy, but Rasheed Wallace three-pointers when he has to release the ball quickly because his man is standing right in front of him—these are not good shots. Rasheed Wallace is now shooting 28 percent from three-point range. The honeymoon is over. That percentage is not acceptable.
I think we all know why the C’s offense looked overmatched last night: Rajon Rondo. He is the creator now. He is the engine through which the C’s offense gets most of its clean looks, and he could not be the creator tonight against Orlando. Really, you don’t need to know anything beyond this: Rajon Rondo played 42 seconds in the 4th quarter. That’s really it. And this is a problem, because Rondo struggled against the Magic in the playoffs last season, too.
So what is Orlando’s Rondo kryptonite? If you watch the tape, you’ll see two things: 1) The Magic sag off of him at all times. That’s just smart defense. Concede the jumper, play with Rajon’s confidence and position yourself as best as possible to prevent penetration. They are not silly enough to chase Rondo out to halfcourt and get sucked into defending screen/rolls out there like the Bobcats and the Warriors.
But this strategy alone doesn’t explain it. Rondo can still get decent looks if defenders sag off of him. He can either use the five-foot head start the defense is giving him to blow by his man or he can take a couple of dribbles into the paint and launch a floater. Against most teams, that’s enough to get Rajon and the C’s offense going. Not against the Magic. The Magic have Dwight Howard, and Dwight Howard a) prevents anyone from getting to the rim; and b) makes those floaters very difficult shots. And the Magic’s defense is so sound that there aren’t easy passing lanes to find when Howard comes to help on penetration. Those tick-tack passes the C’s are so adept at don’t happen much against Orlando, and if they do, Magic hands are there to disrupt them.
I said it during the playoffs, and I’ll say it again now: Rajon cannot get to the rim against Orlando. And the solution, long-term, cannot be that Eddie House plays point guard in the 4th quarter. The C’s need to figure something out, and Doc has to be more creative. Personally, I’d like to see more screen/rolls with Rajon as the ball-handler—or even as the screener, something we’ve seen on just a handful of possessions this season. Maybe an occasional screen/roll for Rajon at the top of the key instead of on the side of the court. I don’t know.
But I know that it’s a major problem when the C’s force 21 turnovers—more than the Magic committed in all but two games last season—hold Orlando to 41 percent shooting and still lose at home. With Jameer Nelson out.
Problems, problems. Good news: It’s early. Doc has 69 games to figure this out.
Bullets, after the jump.
• KG and Sheed worked their asses off tonight defending the post. It was very entertaining to watch. They don’t have the athleticism or strength to guard Howard straight-up anymore, but they have a ton of veteran savvy. They are sort of like 2009 Pedro Martinez. The fastball is gone, but the junk is still there. KG pulled the old Charles Barkley trick of backing off just as Howard exploded with his back to the basket, causing Howard to travel and fall down. Sheed and KG semi-fronted Howard and caused turnovers by deflecting entry passes four different times. Great stuff.
• Anthony Johnson stunk tonight, and that’s the second level consequence of missing Nelson. It’s not a coincidence the C’s rallied in the 2nd quarter with Johnson turning the ball over and missing shots.
• Vince Carter must be addressed. Brian and Brendan sort of bad-mouthed Vince’s performance, and 10-29 is certainly inefficient. But Vince showed some things he can offer the Magic. The first is a true isolation option for times when a great opposing defense (like Boston) takes away the screen/roll and the Magic’s other bread-and-butter plays. Vince scored the biggest hoop of the game isolating on Pierce on the left block with 2:32 left—a brutally difficult fadeaway from the baseline to break a 78-78 tie.
A bad shot? Sure. But the Magic went into an isolation set, and that’s the sort of shot you get in an isolation set against a good defender. Carter can make that shot now and then. The six assists show Carter can be a creator off the screen/roll. Give him 69 more games to work on that in Orlando’s system, and the dividends will come.
• Another thing about Orlando’s D and Howard: It’s so sound that even the C’s little pet plays didn’t work tonight. That little side pick-and-pop they run with the point guard and KG, when KG sets the screen, glides to the baseline and takes a little five-foot bounce pass from the point guard? No dice. The Magic contested that little five-foot bounce pass. Howard is quick and athletic enough to recover and knock it away. He might be the only guy in the league who can do that.
• A gutty performance from Pierce. He played the first 16:15 of the game, and the fatigue showed before Doc called a timeout to get him out of the game in the 2nd quarter. Pierce missed two makeable shots near the rim just before the substitution; the lift just wasn’t there. Credit Doc for this, though: He realized Pierce had played a ton early and had the discipline to keep his minutes at 38 total—just a bit over his average. How? Pierce (and KG) sat the first 5:38 of the 4th quarter. That’s not happening in the playoffs, but those of us who harp on Doc about minutes need to give him credit for his discipline tonight.
• Ridiculous statement of the night: JVG saying Orlando will struggle to get play.500 without Nelson. Umm…remember last season, when they made the Finals without him?
That’s it for now. More later, including some video.