The Celtics are the most unlikely team to sweep in this year's playoffs because they are an aging team and they traded their ace center, Kendrick Perkins. In the first round they were against the New York Knicks. The NYK are not that bad and they have 3 superstars namely Chauncey Billups, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Surprisingly they were swept by the Celts in 4 straight games. For me it's not about athleticism, height advantage, or their three point shooting, it's about how the Celts run their offense. Let's dissect the Celtics' efficient offense because this will be the key if they also want to beat the very powerful Miami Heat.
For me, the best offensive player for the Celts is Paul Pierce. Doc Rivers runs several plays for this guy because he creates several mismatches especially in late game situations. He is their closer. Rivers always sets up Pierce for an isolation play wherein Pierce will have to maneuver himself for a possible step-back elbow jumper. This is their money play.
The NYK are well aware that this will happen in game 2 when the crunch time came. 19 seconds left on the game clock and the Celtics are trailing by a point, Doc Rivers called a time-out. He asked his players to be at their best.
Let's fast forward to what Doc Rivers said after this game. He said:
“I’m hoping we never get in those moments, to be honest, but I’ve been in the league long enough to know that as a player, in those moments, you better execute. You have to be on point.”
Here's how Coach Rivers designed their play for the last 19 seconds.
Their offense started when Kevin Garnett did a solid downscreen for Paul Pierce to be able to get the inbound pass from Rondo. NYK's Bill Walker fought through Garnett's screen and he denied Pierce to get the ball for a potential game winner. The second option comes into play.
Rondo's second option was to give the ball to Kevin Garnett for a low post play. Rondo is the key in this play. He has a 280 degrees vision. Coach Rivers said that Rondo has been the key for their offense. He runs everything for them. He is their decision maker on the floor.
The second option is already set. Rondo must make the right read or else he will hear something from Rivers.
Rondo's character will be tested again in this kinds of situations. Rondo's usual comment about his life as Boston's point guard is:
“I don’t try to change things. “All the plays and options we have our great. I don’t try to pre-determine where I’m going to throw the ball because I have three or four options. At the same time I have to go with my instincts.”
He is in between time and space. Let's go back to the play. When Rondo noticed that Pierce was covered, he immediately went to Garnett. Rondo used a pump fake to make sure that he'll be able to deliver the ball directly to the Garnett's hands. He was successful. Doc Rivers was so happy about his point guard's play. Toney Douglas was fooled in this play.
There are also 3 shooters for the Celts, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Delonte West, just in case Garnett would give an extra pass. Then Rondo made a cut to the basket because he thinks that the Knicks will leave him open from a closer range from the basket.
“The basket cut you’ve got to have because you got Paul, Ray, Kevin with the ball and Delonte, everybody’s behind the 3 [point line]. They want to trap, well, they got to trap off somebody and they couldn’t.”
Garnett has the ball and he is isolated against Jared Jeffries. It's a one-on-one battle. Jeffries know that Garnett loves to fake to the left and shoot a turnaround jumper but Garnett went straight to the paint a make a hook shot. He made the shot. They are up by one point.
The plan went on perfectly. This is the brilliance of Doc Rivers. Sebastian Prutti, a well known sports writer believes that Rivers is the most clutch coach right now.
The Celts' offense is founded on 2 important things. First, there should be sets and second there should be transition opportunities. The specific plays that are designed for a specific game are only secondary. They believe that when all else fails, follow the instructions of Coach Rivers.
Rajon Rondo said:
“ Coach Rivers does all the plays. “We don’t have anything to do with it. We just execute them. Obviously we didn’t execute them well in the regular season. These last two games we’ve done a pretty good job of executing the plays, and obviously if you miss the shot you don’t look as good. But we made the shot.”
This is the fruit of the Celts' hard work. Their practice sessions are full of late game simulations and no wonder they are very competitive when it comes to the grind. All you haters should beware the Celts because they are peaking at the right time.
Ray Allen said:
"In walkthrough, we go through end-of-game situations every day. Some plays we use, some we don’t, but Doc likes to see the timing of it with the second team guarding us — seeing what’s open and what looks fluid. He’ll throw it in just to see it, just to feel it, and then at the end of the game, voila, you’re sitting there, and you’re running it."
Rivers further said:
Their players are an ideal match for skills. We has great shooters in Pierce and Allen, a post presence in Garnett and a decision-maker in Rondo. For me it’s just all about multiple options, The fact that they are all veterans who have been with each other for four years doesn’t hurt either. Most of the time.
Rondo also added that:
“I’ve coach's trust I guess. There’s so much going on in the huddle, I even ask sometimes. Not in the fourth quarter. But during the game I’m thinking about getting Ray, Paul or Kevin a shot you may get a brain clog or something, like what did he just draw up? Guys do ask that. Everybody from KG to Ray to Paul, somebody has to know what’s going on.”
But there's one really important thing that I noticed from the Celts, they have trust with each other. Their freedom to shoot is not an absolute freedom, it is responsible freedom. That is for me, their greatest asset for the years to come. The Heat should be wary about this or else they will eat the Celts' dust.
Here's an example of how Rondo runs the Celts' offense.