The Celtics were cold in the 4th quarter. If they weren’t dunking the ball, that ball wasn’t going through the hoop.
Lucky for the Celtics, pulled off two plays that got them the high-percentage shots they needed at crucial times. Actually… it was the same play… just run on opposite sides of the floor.
Here’s the first one:
The play really happens at the :06 mark with 2:35 left on the clock. At his point in the fourth quarter, the Celtics had made exactly four baskets and two free throws. A once 13 point lead was now 3. There was plenty of time left, and plenty of momentum on the Bulls side.
Rondo gets the ball at the top of the key and goes left with a ball screen from Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett comes up and sets a screen on Paul Pierce’s guy, a brilliant little twist to pick-off a player that is trying hedge and prevent Rondo from getting to the basket again. Suddenly, the staggered, double screen action not only has two guys scrambling to recover and chase Rondo down, it forces Joakim Noah to slide over and help as well.
The INSTANT Noah faces Rondo, the ball is lofted at the rim. The timing is perfect because both Rondo and KG know that once Noah is fully facing Rondo and helping his two screened teammates, he’s lost Garnett long enough to be vulnerable to the lob.
The threat of a Brandon Bass jumper is important because it keeps Taj Gibson out of the lane long enough to give Garnett space. If Gibson had helped earlier, Bass was wide open for his money shot in his sweet spot. Pierce is open for 3 as well, which, on most nights, isn’t a bad option either.
The Celtics wouldn’t score another basket for almost two full minutes. When they did, it looked awfully familiar.
This time Jason Terry and Brandon Bass clear out to the left side of the floor to let Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo work the same play… but from the other elbow.
This time Luol Deng plays it a differently. Pierce sets the screen on Marquis Teague and Deng backs way off so he can get around it. Pierce is sniffing around the right elbow, which everyone in the world knows is his favorite spot on the floor. Deng is not leaving Pierce… not with :45 left in a 2 point game.
Teague, meanwhile, is sufficiently held up by Garnett, who screened him rather than Deng like he did the last time because of the way Deng read the play. Teague gives chase trying to catch up to Rondo, but is way too late. Once again, Noah has to face up and prevent Rondo from getting to the rim. Taj Gibson helps Noah block Rondo’s path but he’s got Bass in the corner and can’t do much else. KG has slipped past everyone once again. Lob. Dunk.
The Celtics took advantage of an overzealous rookie and had the right mix of guys on the floor to get the proper spacing. Jason Terry and Brandon Bass are vitally important to this play, even though it might look like they’re just standing there. They have pulled players away from the actual action and opened just enough of a lane for KG to slip to the rim. In the NBA, where everyone is fast, smart, and strong, the extra inches of space are the difference between two beautiful alley-oops… and a tipped pass or broken play.
Wonderfully choreographed, and wonderfully executed plays.