How Celtics will defend LeBron James

April, 30, 2011
4/30/11
12:00
PM ET
By Pete Newmann & Dean Oliver
ESPN.com

Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
Paul Pierce (right) was Boston's best option when defending LeBron James this season.

Perhaps the most intriguing storyline surrounding the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics will be how Doc Rivers plans on defending LeBron James.

In Miami’s half-court offense, James is key. The Heat played the Celtics four times during the regular season and compiled 277 half-court offensive possessions (for a total of 167 minutes) when James was on the court. Some of the takeaways from breaking down Boston's defense on James in those situations:

• Paul Pierce was the primary defender, guarding James 69 percent of the time. Miami struggled with Pierce on James, averaging 81 points per 100 possessions on 42 percent shooting.

• When guarded by Pierce, James' points per 100 possessions was a paltry 75, while shooting only 43 percent from the field.

• When Pierce was not the defender, James averaged 93 points per possession and shot 50 percent from the floor. Collectively, the Heat averaged 102 points per possession and shot 52 percent from the floor.

The Celtics switched defenders on James only 3.6 percent of the time, but they frequently provided help defense. More than 29 percent of the time Boston provided help defense on James, most often with a big man.

When Boston provided help defense on James, Miami thrived -- not so much by what they did do, but rather what they did not do.

The Heat’s field goal percentage went from 45 to 46 percent, but their turnover rate declined from 16 to 11 percent. Miami averaged 92 points per 100 possessions when the Celtics provided help defense on James, and only 86 points per 100 possessions when they played him one-on-one.

James was individually more effective when Boston defended him one-on-one, averaging 86 points per 100 possessions. When the Celtics provided help, he averaged 73 points per 100 possessions; his turnover rate went from 17 to 22 percent and his shooting percentage declined from 48 to 41 percent.

Kevin Garnett was the help defender that Boston used the most; when he helped on James, both the Heat as a team and James were more efficient than with other help defenders (or without any help). The Heat scored 112 points per 100 possessions with Garnett as the help defender, but just 80 with other Celtics helping. Garnett's value as a defender against the Miami big men was compromised when he helped out on James.

The fact that the Heat played better when the Celtics provided help shows James’ ability to pass and recognize defensive weaknesses. Because James takes the onus to create for his teammates, oftentimes he will have inflated turnover numbers. He positively affects the team by putting teammates in higher-percentage shooting situations where they will not commit turnovers as frequently as when James is guarded one-on-one.

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