One of the largest factors in the Orlando Magic's 2-0 deficit to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in their inaccuracy from three-point range. The three-point shot is a staple of the Magic's offense: they shoot it a ton, and at an above-average rate. In this series, however, Boston has limited the Magic to 12 makes in 40 attempts, a 30% clip, which includes an 0-for-9 showing in the first half of Game 1, the first time the Magic failed to sink a three in a half since February of 2008.
But Boston has done more than make Orlando miss; it's also limiting the Magic's attempts. The 40 three-point attempts account for 22.7% of Orlando's shooting possessions in this series; in the regular season, three-pointers accounted for 29.6% of its shooting possessions.
To be specific, Boston has taken away Orlando's pet shot: the corner three-ball. Though just 28.6% of the Magic's threes come from the corners, they convert them at a 41.6% clip. But in this series? 7 attempts of the 40 (17.5%) from those spots, and just 2 makes (28.6%).
The answer for the lack of looks from the corner is fairly simple. Orlando typically creates those shots by either entering the ball to Howard in the post, where he draws the double team, and then kicks the ball out to an open shooter. The defense rotates to that man, and the Magic reverse the ball via perimeter passes until it makes its way to the corner. They can do the same thing with a dribble-drive and kickout, so Howard isn't always the initiator.
But Boston, obviously, won't double Howard. Coach Doc Rivers hates to send double-teams--"if you start double-teaming in this league, you're dead," he told the media after Game 1--and fortunately for him, he has the personnel to manage Orlando's franchise center. With single-coverage on Howard, the perimeter players don't have as much space between them and their defenders, and aren't nearly as open as usual.
Orlando's attempted to remedy that by running more pick-and-rolls, hoping to draw defenders to a ballhandler driving to the basket. 10 of their 18 three-point attempts in Game 2 came from pick-and-roll offense; an additional pick-and-roll resulted in points when J.J. Redick drew a foul running one early in the game, and sank all three of his ensuing free-throws. The Magic made 4 of their 10 threes out of pick-and-roll offense in Game 2. Redick had a hand in all of them, with assists to Jameer Nelson and Matt Barnes; his own make off the dribble; and a make off a Nelson pick-and-roll. I expect to see more chances for Redick to create in this way in Game 3.
He and fellow reserve guard Jason Williams are doing their part, combining to shoot 5-of-7 from long range in the series. They're a bright spot in that regard. Their teammates? Disappointing, no matter how you look at it. Nelson and Rashard Lewis, the two highest-volume shooters, are 4-of-21. Everyone else is 3-of-12.
Nelson and Lewis, incidentally, are a study in contrasts with regard to three-point shooting, in this series and overall. Nelson, as a frequent pick-and-roll ballhandler, has license to pull-up off the dribble. He's a creator. Yet he's only 2-of-9 off the bounce in this series, which includes a high-profile, ill-advised attempt over Rajon Rondo's contest in Game 2. The shot would have tied the game, but came early in the shot clock and gave the Celtics another chance. All 9 of Lewis' trey attempts, though, have been of the catch-and-shoot variety: 6 spot-up situations, 2 off a screen, and 1 pick-and-pop.
A lot of things need to happen for the Magic to make this series interesting again. Three-point shooting is just one aspect. But it's an important aspect. Getting to the foul line more--Howard and Redick are the only two players do to it consistently--can offset the lack of three-point chances, but it's clear that the Magic need to rediscover what they did against the Celtics in the regular season. In those 4 games, Orlando got 27 of its 78 three-pointers from the corners, or 34.6%. Before the Conference Finals, the Celtics adjusted. Now, the Magic need to counter. Otherwise, they'll be vacationing sooner rather than later.
The author consulted Synergy Sport Technology and NBA Hot Spots to prepare this post.