The second game of a quiet Sunday night in the NBA featured a match-up between two teams destined for the lottery: The Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.
Despite being on the road in this one, the Celtics – owners of a better record – had a good chance of making this their 15th win of the season, given the Magic’s 10-game losing streak and it being Rajon Rondo’s first start since returning from his torn ACL. But it didn’t work out that way. Instead, the men in green lost by a final score of 93-91 and have now dropped 11 of their last 12 games.
The Celtics had several chances to put themselves up at the end of the game, but failed to capitalise on a pair of golden opportunities drawn up by head coach Brad Stevens. Had it not been for a missed free throw by Jeff Green and a botched last possession by Avery Bradley, maybe this story would’ve played out differently.
One of those opportunities came with 35.3 seconds remaining in the fourth. Faced with an out of bounds situation, Stevens drew up a play to get Jeff Green a wide-open look underneath the basket and it worked perfectly. The Magic were baited into thinking that Rajon Rondo was going to get the ball and the Celtics got the shot they wanted in about 1.2 seconds.
Step One: The Set-Up
The Orlando Magic set-up in a standard box formation. With Rondo on the baseline, it looks like Green will simply set a down-screen on him, so that he can catch the ball at the three point line and use the whole 24-second shot-clock to run a play. It’s important that Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley are the two other Celtics on the court. With their shooting ability, Victor Oladipo and Glen Davis have to play them close, which will help spread the floor.
Step Two: The Screens
Green sets a down-screen for Rondo as expected. Bradley runs towards Rondo with his fist up, signalling that he is also going to set a screen for him. With Nelson already hung up in the first screen, Rondo has all the space in the world to catch the ball and do whatever he wants to do. But that’s not the play call. Bradley continues to run past Rondo and sets up at the three point line. Sullinger also clears out and runs to the corner.
Step Three: The Space
With Rondo, Wallace, Bradley and Sullinger all on the left side of the court, Green is left wide open underneath the basket. Now, the 6-foot-5 Arron Afflalo is fronting the 6-foot-9 Jeff Green and with absolutely no help behind him, the Magic are clearly in trouble. All that is left for the play to be perfectly executed is a pin-point lob pass from Gerald Wallace. And as we’ve already seen once this season, he is perfectly capable of doing that.
Step Four: The Lob
Wallace puts a little too much on the pass, but it doesn’t matter because nobody is behind Green and he easily snatches the ball out of the air. When Davis and Nelson realise what is happening, they both run to help Afflalo, but they have no chance of stopping the play. Green gets an easy shot under the basket and winds up getting fouled. He ties the game up at 91-91 and steps to the free throw line with a chance of giving the Celtics a one-point lead. More importantly, they did all this while wasting little-to-no time off the clock.
Here’s a video of the play:
It’s too bad the Celtics are terrible this season because Brad Stevens has drawn up some excellent plays in the closing seconds of tight games. Obviously, this is out of his control. Given the roster Danny Ainge has put together, there isn’t a lot more he can do to keep the Celtics competitive. It’s simply a trial season for the players and coaching staff involved, but so far, Stevens has done a great job. I just can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeves for when he has to coach games that really matter.