Fixing Boston’s Late Game Woes


Dec 12, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) drives the ball over Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Dahntay Jones (30) during the second overtime at the TD Garden. Celtics defeated the Mavericks in double overtime 117-115. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Last night the Celtics had trouble closing out the Dallas Mavericks. They eventually won the ugly contest 117-115 after dropping a 17 point third quarter lead. It took two overtimes to win the game because the Celtics’ late game ‘heroics’–if you will–almost led to the Celtics demise.

It seems that without Ray Allen, the Celtics have lost their flawless execution in late game situations. Having a dependable three point threat down the stretch is always something good to have. Allen was particularly special because of his shooting form. He was able to get a a shot off in most situations without it being blocked. There was always a good chance that the shot was going in.

Here’s an example of how the Celtics have used Allen to win games in the past. Its a notable one, too–a game winning shot against the Knicks in the playoffs. Take a look.

This was a brilliant play, yet so simple. It was a staple of the Celtics’ late game offense when Ray was still on the team. Ray would set a pick for Paul and then Garnett would come over and set a brush screen to set Allen up for a wide open look on the wing. Take a look at the pictures below.

In the image above Allen sets his pick for Pierce. The defense is already keying in off of Pierce because he’s the one with the ball in his hands. Allen is popping so they’ll try to take away that passing lane instead of sticking with him. The second part of the play is what killed the defense every time.

As you can see, Garnett sets the brush screen for Allen to get to the wing. Piece has a very open and direct passing lane to Allen and he gets it to them for the game winning shot. There was no one within five feet of Allen on that shot. That’s how great they were at executing this set.

Since Allen has been gone there have been ample opportunities for Boston to win games of this caliber all year long. A lot of them have resulted in long isolation jumpers from Pierce and Rondo. There has been one time that I can recall–off the top of my head–where there was a set play that was run well in crunch time. Against Milwaukee, the Celtics got Pierce a good look on a very long three late in the game. He could’ve potentially won it, but it resulted in a miss.

Other than that I’ve seen nothing positive late in games from Boston and there are a lot of factors that can go into that. A big one is that this is a new team that may not be used to each other’s tendencies. A big part of execution late in games is knowing each other and where they’re going to be on the floor. I’m sure that Boston practices this, but maybe Rivers sees something that he doesn’t like in their execution.

Its still very early in the season and things can change here. The Celtics are going to get better at set plays late in the game. Running it through Rondo or Pierce for an isolation jump shot 20 feet away from the rim is not ideal. I have a couple of plays that I’d like to see Boston run late in the game. They involve screening from Jason Terry and Paul Pierce getting the ball.

Here is the first one:

This  one was early in the game in the second quarter against the San Antonio spurs. The play resulted in a miss, but it was a wide open look and something that would work late in the game.

Oddly enough, the Celtics have only used Jason Terry as a roll man in the pick and roll game this one time, per mysynergysports. I thought that Doc would take advantage of Terry’s screening ability as he’s a more than capable one.

That turns out to not be the case, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start now. In the video above Terry sets a solid screen on Danny Green. Both Gary Neal and Danny Green are fixed on stopping Pierce from getting to the rim. This leaves Jason Terry wide open on the right wing. Here’s a picture below.

Terry initially has an open look but takes a dribble in to make the shot closer. That allowed the Spurs defense to recover and get a good contest on Terry’s shot. Had Terry taken the initial three, it would’ve been a much better look. Take a look at the video in action.

Here’s another one–and probably my favorite. Terry sets another screen for Pierce coming from the baseline. The defenders initial reactions are to either jump out at Pierce as Terry pops to the corner or maybe the baseline for an easy look or stay with Terry to prevent him from hurting them with his shooting touch. In this case, the defense would be picking its poison. Its the same scheme that was ran against Miami last night in Golden State on a game winning play. This time, its a guard and a forward and not a guard and a big running it.

Take a look at the picture here.

You can see that this is a very effective play. The same action can go on on the weakside of the ball as well, so if you line up Courtney Lee and Kevin Garnett on that side you can get the same results. Take a look at the play in real time.

Terry sets the pindown against the 76ers defense and they choose to stay with him instead of going with Pierce. In the confusion of an end game situation with the game on the line it’d take perfect communication to defend this play. Pierce got the open look for an easy two points against the 76ers.

There have been many promising looks that the Celtics have manifested throughout games, but the execution at the end of them leaves a lot to be desired. If they run some of these sets at the end of their games, I’m sure they’ll have more late game success. Until then, I doubt that the Celtics will be able to close anything out in the final five or 10 seconds of their games.