Kyle Korver’s Explosion: A work of great execution or bad defense?


Jan 23, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver (26) shoots a three in the second half against the Boston Celtics at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 123-111. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Last night the Atlanta Hawks performed the greatest comeback in their team’s history against the Boston Celtics. After coming from 27 points down, the Hawks beat the Celtics 123 to 111 and took two overtime periods to do it.

On the surface, this game looks like it was just  one of the greatest Celtics’ collapses in the history of the organization. Well, considering how the C’s season is going, its fair to consider it that. They definitely blew a huge lead and were even up by 10 points late in the game and failed to end the Hawks comeback effort. But when you did deeper into the rubble that was left from the Celtics’ destruction last night, were the Hawks just dominant?

One Hawk in particular, Kyle Korver, scored all of his points in the second half.  He finished the night with 27 points and four assists from off what was really one singular motion of his arms. He hit eight three pointers in the second half. Out of the 13 shots he took all night, 12 were threes. He made eight threes last night, meaning that all of his field goals were three point tries.

Korver destroyed the Celtics by himself through his jump shot, various ball fakes off of the jump shot motion, and overhead passes that are in a similar motion as well. Not to mention that Korver moving off of the ball was like watching an ever-flowing stream of water. He shredded the C’s, but the question here is did the Celtics play bad defense or did Korver just dominate them? We’re going to examine all of Korver’s three point attempts to figure that out. We’ll see how the Celtics defended them and how easily Korver got his shot off.

But before that, lets see what play types all of his attempts came off of to give us some context here. We’ll see how the Celtics normally perform defensively against these play types and see what Korver did against that defense as well. According to Synergy Sports Technology, out of the 12 Korver attempts from beyond the arch four were off of screens, two came in transition, two were off of handoffs, two were spot up attempts, and two more came from the pick and roll as Korver playing the roll man.

That’s a pretty even distribution of shots between those play types for Korver, but most of them came against things that the Celtics don’t defend well. The Celtics are good when the ball isn’t moving for the opposition offensively. They’re one of the best teams in the league at defending isolations and pick and rolls where the ball isn’t passed to the roll man. The Hawks made sure, for the most part, that the ball was moving for Korver before he made the catch and got his shot up.

The Celtics defense only allows .85 points per possession off of screens–which Korver did the most of–and .89 points per possession off of spot ups. They rank 6th and 4th in those categories, respectively. Now, for the other play types, the Celtics rank in the bottom half of the league when defending those. They allow 1 point per possession against the pick and roll when the roll man gets the ball, .92 points against handoff plays, and 1.26 points in transition. They rank 17th, 22nd, and 30th in the league in those categories, respectively.

Now, lets get into the plays and what happened on each of them.

Korver attempt 1:  Korver’s first three came in the first quarter with about 7:20 left on the clock. Korver starts off in the right corner as Al Horford gets the ball on the elbow. Jeff Teague sets a back screen for Korver, who is being guarded by Rondo. Rondo gets around that screen as Korver runs by Al Horford for the handoff. Horford sees that Rondo isn’t separated enough from Korver, so he keeps the ball until Rondo is gone. Horford then passes to teague on the left wing about 5-7 feet away.  Teague goes baseline and finds a wide open Korver in the left corner.

Rondo just lets Korver run free and starts to freelance–a terrible tendency that he’s picked up over the last year or two. No one else goes to Korver and he has a wide open corner look. Fortunately for Boston, Korver misses and they don’t sustain any damage. We’ll chalk this one up to bad defense, though. Rondo should know not to leave a marksman like Korver. This goes down as a spot up attempt avoided.

Korver attempt 2:  This attempt was a make off of a handoff in the third quarter. Why the big gap in between three attempts for Korver? I couldn’t tell you. But this was a great look and all he needed to heat up.

This play came with about 8:30 left on the clock. The Celtics foil an initial attempt on a drive by Josh Smith, but Smith kicks it out instead of forcing a shot. The ball is swung to Korver, who is being guarded by Paul Pierce. He gives it to Al Horford on the baseline and Pierce gives a half shot to Horford and cheats down a little. Korver runs to the corner as soon as Pierce turns his head and ends up. Horford hands the ball off to Korver in the Korner and rolls to the rim for the rebound if he misses. Kevin Garnett comes to contest Korver’s wide open look and ends up giving a pretty good one. In the end, Korver knocks down the shot and Garnett’s effort goes down the drain.

We’ll give this a middle or neutral grade. Garnett’s contest made up for Pierce’s mistake but it wasn’t enough to get the job done.

Korver attempt 3: This was another make that came from a transition opportunity by Atlanta. They rebounded Boston’s miss and as soon as the ball was secured, Korver ran down the floor to the corner as any good wing player should. Devin Harris gets fed the ball on a short outlet by Josh Smith and goes straight to the paint from the left wing. He kicks the ball to Korver for a wide open three.

We’ll give this one an easy F grade. Terrible defense.

Korver attempt 4: This is my favorite attempt, by far. You guys have to watch this one as Kyle Korver and Al Horford work to manifest this shot. The way that Korver is constantly in motion and how he uses his jump shot to draw the defense to him is brilliant. Take a look for yourselves.

Teague comes up and delivers the ball to Horford on the wing and proceeds to set a screen for Korver. Korver runs by Horford and gets the ball on a handoff. He delivers the ball into Smith who is being guarded by Jeff Green in the post. Korver then runs back as Horford steals Pierces attention as he dives to the rim taking two defenders with him. That leaves Korver open and Smith kicks the ball out to him. Both Pierce and Garnett run out to try and contest on Korver’s shot. Pierce is fully committed but Garnett is not.

Korver sees that he has both of their attention and he fakes his shot by jumping and passing the ball to Al Horford. Since Garnett didn’t fully commit, he can recover in time to Horford as help comes from the corners. Jason Terry–Teague’s man– makes the right decision and rotates to Korver instead of staying with Teague to prevent a spot up shot from Korver. Horford kicks the ball to Teague and no one comes out to contest from the paint, so Terry must rotate back from Korver. Teague waits patiently for that rotation and kicks the ball to Korver for a wide open three.

Great defense there by the Celtics but great defense will never trump brilliant offense. That’s exactly what the Hawks demonstrated on that possession.

Korver attempt 5: This Korver attempt was one that came in the third quarter with about 2:15 left on the clock in the quarter. The Celtics foiled the Hawks initial offense which was a simple Horns look. Jannero Pargo had no options to pass it to and Horford and Smith were outside of the paint.

Korver runs baseline and comes to set a screen for Pargo. He pops out about 27 feet from the rim and shoots the three. It misses and the Celtics defend this well. Great defense here.

Korver attempt 6: This attempt came from a transition opportunity off of a Celtics turnover about a minute into the fourth quarter. Kevin Garnett lost the ball and Devin Harris picked it up and pushed it. The Hawks had numbers and Harris gave it to the trailing Korver for three. Great decision, terrible defense.

Korver attempt 7: This was a very simple attempt coming with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was a floppy set that was used to spring Korver open off on the wing.

Instead of running behind Korver on the screens, Pierce chooses to go over them. They ended up staggering the screens and Pierce couldn’t fight through them. Al Horford sets a nice screen by taking a step over and making Pierce go around him. Pargo finds Korver wide open for three. He drills it. Terrible defense was played by Paul Pierce here.

Korver attempt 8: This is another Korver attempt with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter. This is when you could tell that he was obviously on fire, if you didn’t already know. Korver received a brush screen from Al Horford. Horford was moving a bit, but not enough to warrant a call. Korver ends up getting another wide open look from three and no one contests. Terrible defense, once again.

Korver attempt 9: This three came only one minute later than the previous three and the exact same play was ran. Korver doesn’t get as open as he does this time because his man follows him and uses his hands to cut off the passing lane. Korver runs to the paint and then to the corner and gets a pindown screen this time. He ends up wide open near the top of the arch, but can’t finish the deal. Terrible defense by Boston again. you can see that the defense was wearing down here.

Korver attempt 10:  With 2:52 left to go in the third quarter, the Hawks ran Korver off of a single baseline screen set by Al Horford. He ends up wide open and nails the three point attempt. Terrible defense.

Korver attempt 11:  With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Korver receives a handoff from Josh Smith after a turnover is forced by the the Hawks. The Hawks basically did this in transition, but yet again, Korver was unguarded. Terrible defense here.

Korver attempt 12: This attempt came with about two minutes left in the first overtime period. Korver is ran off of a series of screens along the baseline again, then is given a pindown near the wing. Avery Bradley stays tight on him and doesn’t allow him to break free. He also keeps his hands up to ensure that he’ll have a good contest. Since they have no other option, and not enough time on the play clock to run another set play, Korver sets a screen for Teague and pops for three. Bradley plays terrific defense and Korver ends up missing.

Overall, that’s three instances where great defense was played, one instance where okay defense was played, and eight instances where the defense was awful. Overall, the Celtics couldn’t stick with Korver off of screens and it showed. That doesn’t even show how much attention he took off of his teammates in misdirection plays and passes. He torched the Celtics defense and that wasn’t because of a lack of effort on their part. They just couldn’t stay with him.

The Celtics obviously have some work do to, but the way that Korver just torched them last night shows us where they’re at this season. They can’t keep up with anyone right now and its showing.