In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Boston’s opening play was lifted out of a lazy pick-up game. It started with Celtics point guard Marcus Smart dribbling past the halfcourt logo with Al Horford jogging past him toward the left block. On his way there, Horford brushed past Celtics forward Grant Williams, who sauntered up to the wing.
It’s technically acceptable to say Horford “set a pick” for Williams, but that doesn’t really describe what happened because the Bucks responded as if the game hadn’t even started. Neither Brook Lopez (on Williams) nor Giannis Antetokounmpo (on Horford) budged until Williams caught Smart’s pass behind the three-point line, squared his shoulders and released the ball, which went in. Over the next 47 minutes, Williams launched 17 more threes and made six, while Milwaukee opted not to adjust.
To some this might seem like a curious decision. Williams averaged 3.4 three-point attempts per game during the regular season. He also made 41.1% of them, which was second-best on the team. But whether he was standing in the strongside corner or had enough time above the break to check his shoe laces, test the wind and line up the ball’s seams, Milwaukee didn’t care. Those shots were fine so long as Lopez got to stand in the paint and deter close-range finishes from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“It’s almost like a make-or-miss situation, or a gamble on their part to make you prove it from the outside,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka recently said. “And if you have an off shooting night it benefits them. If you have a hot shooting night you usually win.”