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O'Brien making his point
by Peter F. Stringer / November 6, 2002

Jim O'Brien could take the time to explain why his team doesn't need a traditional point guard, breaking down offensive sets and strategy, but it would likely fall on deaf ears and dull brains. Because the people asking this question are largely TV reporters and second-string writers who either don't follow the team closely or just show up at practice for sound bites.

"Our point guard situation, I really feel, strongly, that way to much is being written about it," said O'Brien after an hour-long practice, devoted mostly to defense, at HealthPoint in Waltham.

Even so, as practice wound down on Tuesday, the Celtics spent plenty of time drilling their offense on a spread set, and each time the ball started through Antoine Walker. Point guards Tony Delk and Shammond Williams each took a turn with the first unit offense in the set. Rather than dribble-penetrating and kicking out, each was finding a place to spot-up and bombing away from three-point land when the ball was reversed to them.

"I think you have to look at them as a group. They are averaging over 21 points per game, they have a 3-1 assist to turnover ratio, and I don't think you can ask much more of your guards than that," said O'Brien. "They have a
good understanding of what we want to accomplish defensively. I think we're getting really, really solid point guard play."

And with Walker running the offense from the top of the key in most cases, he's drawing a big man out of the paint and opening up the key for guys like Paul Pierce and Eric Williams. Despite Walker's shooting woes to start the season (29% from the field), he knows that he'll turn his game around. In the meantime, he's worried about setting up his teammates ­ just like a point guard would.

"I'm going to do some work on the court to help my team win," said Walker of being a playmaker rather than a scorer. "That's my role right now, and I'm very confident that I can get the job done."

Regardless, O'Brien isn't buying the talk that he doesn't have a true point guard on the roster. And his opinion in this matter is a little more relevant than that of sportswriters.

"I'm not so sure that Shammond isn't a pure point guard. Just because he can shoot the basketball so well shouldn't take away from him being a pure point guard," said O'Brien.

THE DEFENSE SHOULDN'T REST

For a team that prided itself on defense last season, the Celtics certainly haven't come out of the gate with the same intensity that earned them a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals. While the five new players on the
roster are still trying to find their way in terms of learning the system, only Vin Baker and Shammond Williams are getting regular minutes from that group.

Right now, the biggest problem the Celtics have that shows up on the official stat sheets is rebounding. The C's have been out-boarded almost 3-2 by opponents in the first three games. But while they made strides in
the win over the Knicks, the most troublesome area for the coaching staff is the challenged shots department. In the NBA, getting a hand in a hot shooters face probably isn't enough to stop him, but it should help to slow
him down.

"We're not holding teams down with our field goal defense, and we realize that unless we get better at it, it's going to be a difficult season," said O'Brien. "Our guys are focused in on improving. They're not a happy group
right now; nobody's happy when you're playing defense as poorly as we are."

It also looks like teams, the Bulls specifically, tore a page out of the New Jersey Nets playbook in terms of beating the Celtics defense by drawing the center away from the basket in the paint and then finding weak-side cutters at the basket for easy lay-ups and dunks. While the Celtics spent most of last season exploiting the NBA's new zone defense rules, have opponents gotten wise to how the C's were operating?

"I think it's a combination of things. Toward the middle of last year, teams started doing a better job of moving the defense and reversing the basketball. And then we were able to grow our defense last year to the point where we were taking care of them after they reversed the basketball," said O'Brien. "I think offenses are a little bit more sophisticated than they were last year; there's more player movement and ball reversal. But I don't think our guys are as dramatically far away as the statistics after three games might indicate."

NO SECRETS IN C'S OFFENSE

In the final minutes of Saturday night's win over the Knicks, the C's ran the same play the last five times down the floor, a set in which Walker brings the ball up the left side and sends a bounce pass into Pierce in the high post. Pierce then either takes his man one-on-one or kicks it out after a double team to one of his long-range bombers sprinkled around the perimeter.

"We've been doing that for two years," says O'Brien. "The Bulls did a good job of taking that play away. They did it by trapping, and they did it with three different guys. Sometimes they brought the five-man, sometimes the
small forward. Teams know that it's a "go-to" type of set that we have. If you had to practice one thing in preparing for the Boston Celtics, it would be to prepare to stop that look."

Peter F. Stringer has covered the Boston Celtics and the NBA since 1996 and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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