Avery Bradley is one of the Celtics leading the 3-point barrage this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
The 3-point shot is the home run of basketball. It’s a play that can get you back in a game and one that can close the door just as fast.
Stevens, who earned three letters apiece in high school basketball and track, also earned on in baseball in his days at Zionsville, Indiana. On Wednesday, he used a baseball metaphor to make his point about shot selection and tempo.
Brad Stevens, the man who wore No. 31 in high school after idol Reggie Miller, certainly saw the down side of it on Wednesday in a 121-114 loss to the Pistons, during which his team took 42 shots from beyond the arc. The Celtics made a reasonable number (15) and percent (35) but that doesn’t tell the whole story. His team committed just six turnovers and shot 44 percent.
“I think we’re taking care of the ball, pretty obviously, really well. I wasn’t overly happy with some of our shots. I felt like some of shots were rushed. But again, when we play good offense we’re really good on that end of the floor. But we have a tendency when teams are making runs against us or things aren’t going our way to try to get it all back at once, and you just can’t do that. You have to keep hitting singles.”
The problem Wednesday wasn’t the 42 threes the Celtics took. It was the 27 misses. Long shots usually lead to long rebounds, and that’s a problem for a team that can’t rebound. The Celtics were battered again on the glass Wednesday (52-33) and many of those were Detroit hauling in the long rebounds from the missed shots.
While Stevens indicated that he wanted more “singles” after Wednesday’s game, he seemed to clarify that before Friday’s game with Sacramento, suggesting the Celtics were taking the right kind of threes.
“They are,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day, we want layups. If we don’t get layups, we want the floor to be shrunk. The defense shrinks in and you’re able to touch the paint and kick it out, in two of our last three games, maybe three of our last four games, two-thirds of our possessions we’ve touched the paint or shrunk the defense with a roll. That’s kind of our objective. Hey, we’re not a team that gets to the foul line a lot, we’re not a team that rebounds at a high rate, and we haven’t scored it in transition so to be able to be sitting where we are, offensively, I think a big reason is because we space the floor.”
Stevens insisted, despite long dry spells like Friday night in the first half (nine points over nine minutes), he’s happy with most of what the team is running offensively.
“I feel good. Offense can come and go, your hitting shots can come and go,” he added. “As far as like quality of shots and where we are now versus where we’ve been the last couple of years and moving forward, I feel really good about it.”
Clearly, the Celtics were more intent on getting Horford more than five shots Friday. He took nine shots and made six in the first 20 minutes. Horford finished with 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including 4-of-7 from the field in the 97-92 win.
“No more so than the other day,” Stevens said after the win. “He got the ball multiple times in the post to start the other game and they just doubled him. [Friday], when you’re playing with traditional bigs against him, he’s going to have more perimeter options, less post options. And I think one of the things that he’s done a really good job of is continue to improve and stretch his range, so that he could be good against either matchup.”
“Yeah I think I got a lot of early looks in the game and like I said on Wednesday I think the Pistons did a good job defending and doubling and forcing me to pass the ball. Tonight I had more opportunities to be aggressive.”
Stevens said good shot-taking and making is all relative.
“We threw it in the post, I think, four or five times in the first six or seven minutes [on Wednesday], and they doubled it and he made the right play,” Stevens said. “There’s always a right play to be made, it doesn’t mean that he’s always going to get a shot. I think five is too little; I don’t think there’s any question about that.
“But sometimes you just gotta find other ways and maybe that means that we run a different kind of action other than a post-up or other than a pick-and-roll to get him looks. We took some tough shots the other night at times but when you give up 121 — that’s the deal. I think that we scored at a pretty good rate. I’m not as concerned right now about that as I am about making sure we shore up those individual correctable things and, again, try to get better on the defensive glass.”
Horford the history-maker: Al Hoford’s 26-point night against DeMarcus Cousins in Friday’s 97-92 win wasn’t just impressive, it was historic. The Celtics big man also had six blocks, four 3-pointers and two steals, the first such stat line in NBA history.
“I thought there were a couple huge plays that he made, blocking shots: the one when he trailed from behind and blocked the shot in transition, and you know, the one thing about Al is he’s always in a stance,” Stevens said. “His arms are always long. He takes up a lot of space and then he reacts quickly to what’s going on.”
“I think playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford added. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”
Can Boogie really help? The hot subject before Friday’s game was the man in the purple uniform wearing No. 15. DeMarcus Cousins has long been rumored as one of the missing pieces that would send the Celtics over the top. This thinking has been picking up steam steadily since the summer when the Celtics came away with Al Horford but not Kevin Durant. Then the Celtics started out the season playing inconsistently (in very large part because they didn’t have the services of the injured Horford and Jae Crowder).
The Celtics can’t rebound very well and they have trouble scoring in the paint. Put Cousins on the Celtics with Horford and Crowder and you have a front court as dynamic as any in the NBA. The Celtics already know what Cousins can do and Brad Stevens has tremendous respect for how disruptive he can be. The issue will be whether the perennial rebuilding Kings want to trade their franchise piece and how much they could get back in return. Clearly, they’ll want at least one first-round pick (possibly the protected lottery pick the Celtics have) and an established player. Why so much? Because Cousins has one more year after this one left on his contract at $17.5 million per season. Attitude and professionalism has always been what has scared away teams from pulling the trigger on any kind of deal for Cousins. And on a young team like Boston, one has to seriously wonder who might have his ear. Obviously, Isaiah Thomas played with him for three seasons from 2011-12 through 2013-14.
Following Friday’s 97-92 loss in Boston, the Kings fell to 7-12 on the season. In seven seasons in Sacramento, Cousins has never enjoyed a winning campaign, averaging 25 wins, with just one season of 30 or more wins (last year).
“It is almost like we have to get hit first for us to react,” Cousins said after Friday’s game. “That has kind of been the struggle the whole year. It’s not good for us. We’re in the situation where we have to come out and be the aggressive team every night…if we don’t figure this thing out we’re going to continue to have these types of games. Like I’ve been saying all season, if we want to change thing whole thing around then we have to hold ourselves accountable and take responsibility for our effort.”
Asked about Cousins Friday, Crowder told reporters that he was “my guy… he’s a good friend of mine, we’ve become friends inside the lines.”
Jerebko hot: Jonas Jerebko came into Friday’s game on quite the streak. In his previous three games, the Celtics reserve had connected on a remarkable 20 of 24 shots, including eight threes. Jerebko, a career 46 percent shooter from the field, is over 50 percent 18 games into his seventh season. He’s 44 percent from beyond the arc, nine points above his career average.