Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Bench Comes Alive; the Mavericks are Irrelevant

The Celtics just blew the Mavericks off the court in the first half, allowing me to recap the game early, because the third and fourth quarters don't matter when you walk into the locker room up 74-47, having shot 65 percent and 10-of-13 from three.

Let's focus on a key six minute stretch at the start of the second quarter, when the C's extended the lead from 18 (comeback possible) to 27 (warm up the bus). For the bulk of that stretch, Doc had the following five on the court: Allen, Rondo, Scal, Baby and House. The problem with the Celtics bench is that the offense can look disorganized without Pierce and Garnett to stabilize things with their post presence and ability to get the rim and draw fouls. If Allen can't get free on the perimeter, the C's find themselves forcing up bad shots as the shot clock runs down. That didn't happen here. Let's see why by isolating a stretch from the 10:23 mark (when Rondo replaced Pruitt) to the 5:48 mark (when Pierce and KG came back into the game). The C's scored on all but one possession in that stretch:

• The offense got into the danger zone on the first possession. There was some desperate screen-setting for Allen that resulted in nothing. Jason Terry bailed the C's out by not paying attention as House cut to the rim with the shot clock winding down; Scal, trapped behind the three-point line, found him for an easy lay-in (9:57)

• Next possession: Allen creates space for himself off the dribble and hits an easy 14-footer. (9:10)

• Allen again creates off the dribble and dishes to Rondo for an open 16-footer. SHOOT, RAJON! (8:41)

• Allen comes off a screen and hits an open three. (8:11)

• House misses a long three. (7:41)

• House and Baby play a little two-man on the right side; House bounces a pass to Baby as he moves into post position on Nowitzki. Baby goes right at Dirk, using his body to create space and laying the ball in, plus one. Great work from Baby--he must be more aggressive around the rim. (7:16)

• Allen gets the ball at the top of the key, beats his man on a beautiful left-to-right crossover, penetrates to the foul line area and shoots a pass to Scal for an easy three in the left corner. (6:50)

• Rondo makes an unassisted open 20-footer. (6:09)

What jumps out here is that Allen took over most of the ball-handling/play-making duties from Rondo. This makes some sense in isolated stretches, especially with the other two members of the Big Three on the bench. As I wrote yesterday, Allen is better than people think at creating mid-range shots for himself, either off-the-dribble or using ball screens. Once Ray gets within 20 feet of the basket, the defense has to send a help defender; they don't have to do that with Rondo until Rajon is in lay-up range. With fewer individual scorers in the line-up, maybe using Allen as a creator is a more efficient way of getting good shots than running him around baseline screens or having Rondo fly to the rim on every possession in hopes of kicking to an open shooter. Just a thought. 

Other thoughts from a monster performance:

• This was KG's game. KG's first quarter was one of the finest stretches of basketball you'll see. On offense, the Celtics ran much of the offense through Garnett in the post, and he just destroyed Nowitzki. He shot 5-of-7 for the quarter and controlled the offensive flow with his passes out of the low post.

On defense, the guy's effort is unbelievable. One example: With about 10:00 left in the first quarter, Josh Howard beat Allen (I think) off the dribble on the right wing. KG left Nowitzki just above the foul line and floated down to cut off the baseline. In my head, I thought, "Don't leave Dirk!" Sure enough, Howard fed Nowitzki. But by the time the ball arrived, KG was only a step from Dirk with his arm outstretched. Was Dirk still open enough to shoot? Yes. But he was so stunned that KG was there already that he hesitated, brought the ball back down and then fired up a bad shot with KG in his face. It drew only backboard. Great stuff. 

As everyone has noted, effort like this is contagious. Example: With 3:15 to go, KG again left Dirk near the top of the key to squelch Kidd's penetration. Kidd flicked a behind-the-back pass to Nowitzki that arrived a little low (knee level) but was still catchable. Except Rondo and Pierce were both flying at Nowitzki like mad men on a typical maniacal C's rotation. Dirk dropped the ball, and Rondo stole it. More great stuff. 

Honestly, you could isolate almost every defensive possession and find little gems like this. It's inspiring to watch.

The contrast with the Mavs couldn't be clearer. This team is awful. You'll hear that they were on the last game of a road trip, but it was a four-game roadie over seven days, not some arduous four-in-five East Coast swing. And the awfulness starts with Nowitzki, who stopped trying on defense as the game got out of hand. Example: With 30 seconds left in the half, Perkins got the ball deep in the post against Dampier. Dirk walked over for a double-team--he literally walked. Strolled. Ambled. When it was clear Perkins wasn't going to shoot, Nowitzki walked back toward his man. 

Was the game over by that point? Sure. But that's when your leaders have to show everyone else that they care, that the performance is unacceptable and that the team is going to play better starting right now. Everything about Dirk's effort said, "I don't care and I just want to go home."

Hey--but don't worry, Jason Terry hit a three with 30 ticks left in the half to "cut" the lead to 74-47, and he was so excited he made the "three" sign with both hands as he trotted back on defense. Totally embarrassing. 

The Mavericks are going nowhere unless the team's mindset changes fast. 

(Update: True Hoop picked up this part of my post today, and one of the commenters there makes a good point: Is it hypocritical for a C's fan to criticize the Mavericks body language when the Celtics have alienated people around the league with their trash talking and taunting--especially KG? It's a fair question, and some of KG's antics have rubbed me the wrong way. But my post was less about the Mavs' body language than it was about their effort. Still, I probably haven't written enough about how the Celtics, and particularly KG, have crossed the line at various points this season).

• Something's going on with Leon Powe. He didn't play at all in the first half after playing just seven minutes against Orlando. I chalked up the Orlando game to bad match-ups, but something is amiss if he's riding the pine for an entire half against Dallas. Hopefully this is just temporary, since Powe's ability to create his own shot in the post is crucial to preventing the offensive stagnation I talked about before. 


  1. Reading this post was much better than watching that game.

  2. Maybe you should learn the English language before you blog.

    Be the Three: Where We Could Watch Chris Paul All Day Long


    A Kindergartner could write a better headline then this