Coming into the season, Avery Johnson’s goal for the New Jersey Nets’ defense was to hold opposing teams to 44 percent shooting. That defense, combined with the emphasis put on really slowing the pace, was the Nets’ strategy for defeating the Boston Celtics at home. Johnson’s squad executed just about as well as you could have expected, holding the Celtics to just 44.9 percent shooting and limiting the game to just 86 total possessions (For reference, the slowest team in the NBA - the Dallas Mavericks - play at a pace of 91.1 possessions per game). This effort was almost enough, but the Celtics can play a little defense themselves, and they were able to hold the Nets to just 37 points in the second half.
With Rajon Rondo missing the game due to injury, we really got to see the impact he has on the Boston Celtics’ offense. Not only did the team as a whole struggle to score points effectively, posting a 103.5 Offensive Efficiency Rating as a team, but the Celtics’ Big Three struggled to score as well:
Paul Pierce: 18 points on 7-17 shooting (1-5 from three) Kevin Garnett: 8 points on 4-12 shooting Ray Allen: 15 points on 5-11 shooting (3-5 from three)
It should be noted that two of Allen’s threes came off of defensive mix-ups late in the fourth quarter. So how did Boston come away with the win? Two reasons. First, Shaquille O’Neal picked up the slack. O’Neal had what was no doubt his best game as a Celtic, scoring 25 points on 9-10 shooting, and maybe more importantly, going 7-13 from the free throw line.
The Celtics’ defense also did its part. I already mentioned the 37 points in the second half, and in addition to that, the Celtics were able to force the Nets into a turnover on 19.8% of their possessions. This is what allowed the Celtics to put up 11 more shots than the Nets. The Celtics’ bigs also did a very nice job defending Brook Lopez, who put up 16 points but needed 14 shots to do so. The Celtics forced Lopez to catch it out of his comfort zone and than brought double teams right into his face when he did get into the lane. Lopez never looked comfortable, and when that happens, the Nets usually struggle on the offensive end.
Johnson’s Nets played as hard as you would expect them to, but with tight defense and with help from some unlikely places, the Boston Celtics were able to come away with a win.