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Sunday, May 1, 2011
How James Jones torched the Celtics

By Kevin Arnovitz

James Jones
Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
The Heat had a big three on Sunday -- Dwyane Wade, LeBron James ... and James Jones.

MIAMI -- Sideline interviews with media outlets are typically reserved for guys named James, Wade and Bosh in Miami. But after scoring 25 points and draining five of seven 3-pointers, reserve swingman James Jones got the call on Sunday, delaying his return to the Miami Heat's locker room after the game.

After Jones was through with his postgame commitments, he walked into the locker room still in his game clothes to a crowd of waiting reporters. Although most players opt to shower and dress prior to taking questions, Jones saw the scrum and immediately -- and empathetically -- began the Q&A session.

"You all have jobs to do. You have lives," Jones said. "I'm ready."

Jones' readiness on Sunday was a key contribution to the Heat's 99-90 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. On an afternoon when Chris Bosh underperformed and LeBron James was unexceptional by his standards, Jones' production was vital.

"JJ had the best game of anybody," LeBron James said of Jones. "Anytime it seemed like [the Celtics] were making a run, we penetrated and kicked to JJ and he was able to make a play."

Since Day 1, that's been the Heat's game plan. The upper tier of the Eastern Conference includes several teams that design their defensive schemes around stopping -- even overcommitting -- penetrators such as James and Dwyane Wade.

"We knew we’d have to make some plays to keep them honest," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They’re one of the better defensive teams in the league in terms of loading up and protecting the paint."

The Heat were well-aware that opponents would try to shrink the floor and send extra bodies at Wade and James, which is why they stockpiled long-range shooters to fill out their roster. Ideally, snipers such as Jones, Mike Miller and Eddie House would be primed and ready for kickouts from Wade and James.

Under the direction of Tom Thibodeau, the Celtics built a defense that overloads the strong side, converges on the ball handler, then zones up behind that pressure. Over the past several seasons, the Celtics have nearly perfected this strategy. Even though the offense often has a 3-on-2 advantage on the weakside, the Celtics are so deft at rotating and making snap decisions, they're able to do the necessary work to keep those weakside threats at bay ... at least most games.

On Sunday, the Heat made the Celtics pay and Jones was the taxman. How was Jones able to wreak havoc against the league's second-ranked defense?

Here's how his five successful 3-pointers played out:
Incredibly, Jones also led the Heat in attempts at the stripe, converting all 10 of his free throw attempts. He didn't attempts more than five free throws in any single game this season.

The Celtics have committed themselves to converging on the Heat's strong-side action. That tactic has served them well for years, but there's room for exploitation if you work hard enough. It's not enough to just park a shooter in the weakside corner. Two of these 3-pointers on Sunday occurred in early offense situations before the Celtics truly set their offense. Another two came about because Jones never stopped moving. And one opportunity surfaced because the Heat were patient enough to pass up mediocre shots in search of a better one.

Boston will undoubtedly adjust, and 5-for-7 is hard to replicate. Still, the Celtics' philosophy leaves them the slightest bit vulnerable to weakside shooters. So long as Wade and James are willing passers and Jones stays on the move, the Heat should be able to find some open looks.