The Boston Celtics' offensive efficiency starts with the play of point guard Rajon Rondo.
There was a clear difference between Games 3 and 4 of the Boston Celtics’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Atlanta Hawks. Game 4 showcased the Celtics moving the ball with efficiency and precision to take a 3-1 cushion.
Sure, the Celtics were able to make shots from everywhere on the court, including Rajon Rondo knocking down two shots from beyond the arc. Those shots were there because of the ability to find the open man and keep the Hawks’ defense chasing the ball.
The Celtics are not a team that relies on one-on-one with a star player dribbling the ball and crossing over the opposing defenders like the Miami Heat does with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Instead, the Celtics would prefer to outwork the defense by spreading the ball around and having multiple scorers while applying pressure on the defensive end.
In the Game 3 90-84 overtime victory, the Celtics were late getting into their offense and they forced themselves to take shots just before the shot clock expired. The Celtics shot 40.5% for the game. There was one point when Tracy McGrady was lying on the other end of the court after suffering a knee injury, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley were passing to each other on the perimeter and there was no off-ball movement from the other players on the court. Fortunately for the Celtics, Pierce was called for a foul while he threw up a tough outside shot.
Meanwhile in Game 4, the Celtics were spacing themselves and the ball was not stuck in one player’s hands. Rondo, who committed 5 turnovers in an erratic first half of Game 3, made just 1 turnover in Game 4. This was why Rondo was much more effective than his triple-double performance in the Game 3 win. At about the 8:00 mark of the third quarter, the Celtics were 33-for-49 from the floor. Rondo recorded 13 assists by halftime and he finished with 16 dimes. The team had 24 helpers in this outing.
Pierce’s performances have been just as uneven as Rondo’s in this series, but he may have been even better in Game 4 than his “turn back the clock to 2002” accomplishments of last Tuesday’s 87-80 victory. He was 10-for-13 from the field in just 17 minutes despite a sprained knee he suffered in the morning shootaround, and he forced the Hawks to fold the tent with hopes of salvaging their 2011-’12 season in Game 5.
On defense, the Celtics set the tone early by getting eight turnovers in the opening frame. Overall, the Celtics’ defense forced 18 turnovers from their counterparts and scoring 18 points while they were at it.
The other encouraging sign was Ray Allen’s return from bone spurs in his ankle. Allen played nearly 37 minutes in Game 3 and scored 13 points. Last night, Allen helped clinch the game by throwing a pass to an open Rondo for a trey to put the Celtics ahead by 25 and then on the next offensive sequence, he drilled a 3-pointer to hand the Celtics a 28-point lead. This ended any hope the Hawks had about making a comeback. After the demolition of the Hawks, Allen said he may not need surgery in the offseason. The Celtics were able to blow out the Hawks with two of their best players, Josh Smith and Al Horford, coming back from injuries that kept them out of Game 3
This series has played out as the first team to 80 points will win. The Celtics should not expect to be as hot in Game 5 as they were in Game 4 because the Hawks are playing at home with an opportunity to play for another day. If the Celtics want to close out this series, they will move the ball and attack the Hawks on defense, especially with three key players (Pierce, Bradley, and Mickael Pietrus) battling ailments.