The Boston Celtics pulled a page out of the New York Knicks playbook but failed to execute down the stretch


Apr 20, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers speaks to the team during a timeout in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks in game one of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Knicks won 85-78. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics had an excellent first half of play yesterday but couldn’t sustain that offense in the second half. They scored 55 points against the New York Knicks by using the isolation heavy strategy that the Knicks have used for a majority of the season. They added their own mixes and attempted to cater to their offensive personnel.

Instead of playing small like the Knicks, the Celtics chose to play big. Paul Pierce stared at the two guard position in order to counter the Knicks two point guard lineups that they employ. Pierce played 17 minutes at the shooting guard position yesterday along with Jeff Green as the small forward and Brandon Bass as the power forward. That lineup was a -13.5 in net rating yesterday.

The Knicks three most used lineups feature that two point guard that Rivers anticipated. This is obviously something that the Knicks like to use and they did so yesterday. Rivers wasn’t wrong in trying to exploit a matchup with Pierce at the two slot.

However, the Knicks are the best in the league at defending the post-up and instead of starting the two point guard lineup yesterday, Mike Woodson brought Jason Kidd from off of the bench as started Iman Shumpert. That rendered Pierce ineffective for a majority of the first half.

The true problem with Rivers strategy yesterday was that by isolating Pierce, Green, and Garnett in the post, he took away from the things that his team does best. The team’s cutters didn’t have a lot of space to operate. Only the adept slashers like Avery Bradley were allowed to prosper. Guys like Jason Terry, Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and the like were essentially phased out of the game because of the predictability that the Celtics offense showed.

The Celtics were 6-21 in spot up situations yesterday. Take a look at this sequence below when the Celtics were attempting to play inside-out.

Notice that no one aside from Jeff Green on the floor is a very good slasher. While they did get some good looks on the perimeter, no one was making anything. At some point, you’ve got to know to go somewhere else with your offense. Avery Bradley did come in shortly after that for Jason Terry, but Terry played a lot in the fourth quarter and the latter part of the second half as well.

The Knicks are normally awful at defending spot-up attempts but yesterday they did a great job of not overplaying the post and communicating who should close out where when the ball was kicked out.

The Knicks gave the Celtics a taste of their own medicine as well on the defensive end. They took away the spot-ups that the Celtics are normally good at, but the Celtics bailed out on their traditional offense way too early. Instead, they went to a basic vanilla offense that was easy for New York to defend. That’s why you have them turning the ball over 20 times in the game–including eight fourth quarter turnovers.

The playoffs are all about adjustments, but this was an unforced adjustment. Rivers should go back to the offense that he knows best. If the Celtics play the pick and pop/handoff game like they normally do things should go well. They needed offense to complement their transition game yesterday and they just didn’t have it.