Finals preview? Don’t count on it
When you pair the team with the best record in the Western Conference with the team with the Eastern Conference’s best record, the temptation is to bill the matchup as a preview of the NBA Finals.
But with the Boston Celtics’ 105-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs last night, previewing the Finals based this game would be a lost cause. Forget the fact that this game was played in January, even if both the Celtics and Spurs end up in the Finals this June, you’d be better off using NBA 2K11 to preview the series instead of this particular game.
Nevermind the 61% shooting in the game for Boston, or the 22 assists for Rondo (that actually doesn’t shock me much). This game game had so many quirks and anomalies that I’m sure I’ll be forgetting some.
Graydon pretty well covered the calamity that was crunch time for both teams, including the back-to-back (that’s two!) missed free throws by Ray Allen with just seconds remaining. You also have to think that Manu won’t bungle up a game-tying or winning shot in the same way he did on Wednesday night.
The last few days, I’ve been calling attention to San Antonio’s strategy to run shooters off the 3-point line and stop them before they get to the rim. Against Boston, the Spurs succeeded in that by forcing Boston into 39 shots from 16-23 feet away, generally thought of as the most inefficient shot in basketball. This season, the Celtics are averaging less than 22 shots per game from that area.
Problem is, thanks to 13-16 shooting from Ray Allen and 7-10 from Paul Pierce, Boston made 22-39 shots from that range. Their 56.5% shooting is obviously better than the 41% they average from that area, and is much better than the 39% shooting the Spurs typically allow from there.
Another statistical anomaly caused by Ray Allen on Wednesday night was how effectively the Celtics scored coming off of screens. For the season, the Spurs have held teams to .92 points per possession when shooting coming off of screens.
And just a side note, shooting off of a screen and shooting off of a pick are different. Picks are set for the player with the ball, screens are set away from the ball.
San Antonio sees teams shoot off of screens about 5% of the time, but Allen and the Celtics effectively shot off of screens 15% of the time on Wednesday night and scored an astonishing 1.86 PPP. If the Spurs were able to hold to a still-fantastic 1.5 PPP, they probably win this game. But alas, Ray Allen went all Pop-A-Shot on the Spurs and it was just enough to put Boston over the top.
Now I’ll admit, saying that this game could in no way be considered a preview of the Finals should these two teams meet is said slightly in jest. There is enough of between the two teams to notice trends and tendencies. But the number of aberrations in this game can’t definitively tell us which team has the upper hand.