Can the Warriors beat the Celtics tonight?
Not sure about that... but as Warriors fans, we must search for hope anywhere we can find it. And without any coherent structure to our team, exploiting other teams' weakness is a start.
In an analysis of the Boston Celtics' outstanding defense this season, Celtics Hub identified one of their biggest defensive weaknesses:
You know what’s funny? The Celtics are awful at defending shots from the rim area out to 10 feet away from the hoop (i.e. shorter mid-range attempts). Teams are hitting 51 percent of those shots against Boston, the 4th-highest mark in the league. (Only the Hornets, Grizz and T’Wolves are worse. Not exactly a defensive murderers row). Even “worse”: The C’s allow a ton of shots from this slice of the court—10.2 attempts per game, the 6th-most in the league.
The C’s are much better defending long mid-range shots (from 10-15 feet out), but they allow an above average number of attempts from there, too.
If there is hope to be found for winning this game, it is in the fact that the Warriors might have the tools to exploit the Celtics' weakness based on data from the HoopData.com site.
CJ Watson is among the league's best guards from that 10 feet-and-in range shooting 57%. Monta Ellis is shooting 50% from 10-15 ft range on 3.1 attempts/40 from that range, ranking among the top 15 in the league in attempts/40 from that range (Anthony Randolph is also among the league's top 15 in attempts from 10-15 ft out, shooting 45%). As a team, the Warriors take the 6th most attempts from the 10 foot-and-in range.
Moving out to the 10-15 foot range, the Warriors shoot a league-best 44.9%, though not one player ranks highly in that category.
In other words, the Warriors have the ability to exploit the Celtics' biggest defensive weakness.
The problem: the Warriors' 6.1 attempts from the 10-15 ft range don't rank in the top 20 in the league and they take the 3rd most shots in the league from the 16-23 ft range, where the Celtics are a little bit better.
If the Warriors want to beat the Celtics defense, it seems that finding ways to create more shots in the 10-foot-and-in range will be essential. It begs a small shift in strategy from shooting so often from the 16-23 ft range, but setting up Ellis and finding other shooters open in that range.
Given that the Celtics are a team that will shut down shots at the rim and three point shooting, strong mid-range shooting and transition baskets might be enough to score a second straight upset against a Celtics team that just lost a tough road battle to the Clippers last night.
However, even if the Warriors do accomplish the task of creating more mid-range shots, it might be that in fact it's not a weakness at all for the Celtics, but a concession:
Again, this isn’t anything new. To varying degrees, Orlando and San Antonio have designed their defenses in recent years to protect the rim, defend the three and do the best they can when teams take mid-range shots.
Is it possible to be good at everything on defense? Can a super team take away every kind of shot a team could get on the court?
My answer is no: good teams play to strengths and concede something as long as they continue to focus on what they do well. While strong mid-range shooting might be the best way to beat the Celtics, it's just as likely a gamble that the Celtics are willing to take as they seek another NBA championship.