Doc Rivers Working on Ways to Generate Better Looks for Cold-Shooting Celtics

by NESN Staff

May 4, 2012

Doc Rivers Working on Ways to Generate Better Looks for Cold-Shooting CelticsWALTHAM, Mass. — Keyon Dooling. Game 2. Third quarter. Six minutes, 35 seconds. Nine-point deficit, cut down to six points.

Those were all the pertinent details of the Celtics' first made 3-pointer of their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. And the fact that I could recite those without having to look them up (trust me) reveals just how notable the moment was.

The Celtics, normally an accurate long-range shooting team, watched their strokes abandon them for most of the first two games of this series, when they shot just 3-for-25 from beyond the arc. Their shooting struggles make it a small wonder they enter Friday's Game 3 knotted with the Hawks at a game apiece.

"It's amazing," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said. "We're a team that has shot and made threes this year, and we've had, what, three made threes for the series? It's a crazy number."

The challenge for Rivers and the Celtics coaches is finding a way to present the threat of outside shooting even when they do not have a proven shooter on the court. Paul Pierce's heroics in Game 2 included only one 3-pointer, and willing bomber Mickael Pietrus is 0-for-5 in the series. Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, whose outside shots the Hawks still do not seem to respect, will share extensive floor time even if Ray Allen, a huge question mark, returns.

The Celtics made up for a shortage of attempts in the regular season by hitting the few shots they did take. They attempted the seventh-fewest 3-pointers at 15 per game, but converted the seventh-highest percentage. In the first two games of the playoffs, they continued to take a miniscule amount of threes, but their 12 percent shooting mark was dead last among playoff teams, even lower than noted long-distance bricklayers Utah, Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers.

As usual, the Celtics have relied on their defense to compensate for a slumping offense. Boston has held Atlanta to 37 percent shooting from the field and has forced the Hawks, who scored more than 96 points per game during the regular season, to play the first two games of the playoffs in the 80s.

The pace has been ratcheted down (is that a phrase?) to barely 90 possessions per 48 minutes, well below the already slow pace both teams played during the regular season. The result has been play that may be painful to watch, but it has helped the Celtics stay with the deep and athletic Hawks.

"We've had to find other ways," Rivers said. "They're really guarding the line and they're actually clogging the paint up. They're doing a pretty good job on us defensively and we've kind of adjusted to it and defended them back. That's been important, but our guys are just that type of group. They just kind of hang in there."

Allen's return would help Boston's spacing, and the Celtics were nearly five points better per 100 possessions this season when Allen was on the court.

Still, Allen alone would not solve the Celtics' issues, especially if pain in his ankle renders him immobile. If the Hawks can crowd Kevin Garnett on defense and prevent Brandon Bass from getting open jump shots, as they did in the first two games, they should be able to stay with a stand-still or hobbled Allen on the perimeter.

"We just need a scorer," Rivers said. "We need to space the floor. They're killing us with their help. They've just decided that without Ray on the floor, we're going to swarm everybody and you've got to find someone. It's been hard."

Without Allen, the Celtics will need to get creative to generate more offense, or they could simply hope somebody gets hot. Dooling has been rocking a bandage under his right eye since he suffered a cut in the second-to-last game of the regular season, but it will take more than a band-aid to cover up the Celtics' shooting woes.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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