OK, for starters: This wasn't a good shot by Paul Pierce.
You know this wasn't a good shot, and you know why this wasn't a good shot. You are scouring the Basketball Internet for news, notes and nitty-gritty analysis with your highlights, which means you probably read the post Henry Abbott and Ryan Feldman published on Tuesday showing that the kind of offense that sees a star player dribble out the clock then hoist a contested shot — call it "Hero Ball," the "Archangel offense," pure gunning or something else — is less effective in late-game scenarios than the kind of shot that typically results when said star passes, which is to say, an open shot taken by a non-star. The argument stands to reason — it's easier to shoot when no one's guarding you than when someone's right in your mug — and the numbers, as you'd expect, back it up.
Even if you didn't read that piece, you probably recognize that being guarded by Shane Battier — a solid defender against whom Pierce has struggled in the 169 minutes they've shared the court during the Eastern Conference finals, to be sure, but who is still nearly 34 years old and beatable off the bounce — and then facilitating a switch off a screen to be guarded by LeBron James — who is younger, stronger, faster, longer and a better perimeter defender than Battier — is not exactly an appreciable upgrade. As a matter of fact, it's way worse. Especially when that's a choice you make when your Boston Celtics team is clinging to a one-point lead over the Miami Heat with one minute remaining in a pivotal Game 5.
This is a time for the best thing the offensive genius of Celtics coach Doc Rivers can design, awesome stuff like what got Kevin Garnett that easy alley-oop finish with nine minutes left, not for pounding the rock by the Eastern Conference finals floor logo. After the game, Rivers agreed, according to Gary Dzen of the Boston Globe:
"I kind of wanted him to drive, honestly," said Rivers. "I've been around Paul long enough. Right when he gets into the footwork, you knew he was going to shoot it. At least I did, because I've seen him enough.
"I didn't know if I wanted that shot. Honestly, I thought he was going to drive it, but [...]
Ah, "but ..." — the great fulcrum of the hero-ball argument. It isn't the most efficient or effective way of getting points, but ... It isn't the smartest plan with that tenths-of-a-second column showing, but ... It'll make you a pariah if you miss it, but ...
But if you make it, it's the dagger.
Paul Pierce made it, working that footwork and raising up over the outstretched left arm of the leading vote-getter for the league's All-Defensive Team, and then comfortably dotting the i in "win." The Celtics went up 90-86 with 52.9 seconds remaining, Pierce went down the court reminding us all how "cold-blooded" (the answer? so cold-blooded) and Miami went away, dropping a 94-90 contest that has the Heat staring down the barrel of a 3-2 deficit and the prospect of elimination come Thursday night. And after the game, according to the Globe's Dzen, Rivers went on about his veteran star.
"[...] That's what players like Paul do. It really is. He's a big shot-maker. He always has been."
Pierce said James was giving him the shot.
"I saw him back up, he gave me a step," said Pierce. "It was in my range, the shot clock was running down. I just took the shot ... I wanted to get the best shot for us. That was the best shot."
Thanks to research and analytics, we now know that this isn't really true.
We now know, in most instances, for a fact that contested 3-pointers like the ones Pierce hit Tuesday night and Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden hit Monday night are low-percentage looks that pale in comparison to the success rates for open options created through the purposeful and sound execution of good offense, even against good defense. (Harden's got a better claim there, since the San Antonio Spurs blew up the Kevin Durant-targeted play OKC wanted to run; Pierce just went iso from a distance and side of the floor where he'd been ice-cold through three quarters, according to NBA.com's shot charting data.) We know Paul Pierce taking a 25-footer with a nail-bitten hand in his face isn't really the "best shot" the Celtics can get.
But oh, man, what a shot.
Is the clip above not working for you? Feel free to check out the triple elsewhere, thanks to our friends at the National Basketball Association.
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