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Learning the score

Posted by Scott Souza January 29, 2009 05:55 AM

Eddie House starts out deep in the near corner behind the arc. He looks for the pass. He’s open, briefly. He’s ready to shoot.

The play doesn’t find him right away, so he takes off. First he scurries along the baseline, briefly lost among the 7-footers, and emerges out the other side. He is now in the far corner behind the arc. He looks for the pass again. He’s open a little longer this time. He’s still ready to shoot.

By the end of the possession, he will make it back to the other baseline and out to the top of the key. He will stunt and retreat. He will sprint around a screen 22 feet from the basket. He is still looking for the pass. He is open longer and longer each time. He’s always ready to shoot.

“A lot of the guys don’t want to chase a lot of the great shooters in the league,” Celtics guard Ray Allen said of the challenge House’s movement presents a defense, “because you’re getting hit by two or three screens, then you come off a screen and you’ve got to run to get back in front of your guy. You not only have to chase them, but you have to contest the shot at the same time. That’s not easy to do.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for the Heat to do on Jan. 21 when House torched Miami for seven 3-pointers (six in the second quarter), and it wasn’t easy for the Mavericks to do last Sunday when House matched that trey total in scoring 23 points in just 27 minutes.

It wouldn’t have been as easy for him to do, either, had he still been handling the primary backup point guard duties behind Rajon Rondo. But with Rondo and Gabe Pruitt bringing the ball up the court recently, House has been able to do what he does best — run defenses ragged and pepper opponents with a shot that comes out of his hands in an instant.

“Eddie’s a scorer,” said Rondo. “He can play the point, but he’s definitely a scorer. This allows him to be more aggressive offensively coming off the ball. He doesn’t have to bring the ball up the floor against pressure. Then he can roam freely and come off screens. I think it’s more his natural position to come off screens and knock them down.”

It’s a touchy thing for House. Shooting off the bench has become his forte, but his perceived inability to handle point-guard duties has made him a bit of an NBA nomad. Back for a second straight season with the C’s, House started the season running the point behind Rondo. He handled those responsibilities well, but he wasn’t as effective with his shot.

“You’ve got to run the team,” Rondo said of playing point guard. “That’s what Doc [Rivers] wants out there first as opposed to looking for your offense. [When House is playing point] he has to do a little bit of both with the second unit.”

Said House: “Sometimes you get into the game a little easier being the [point guard] because you have the ball in your hands. You’re making decisions and you have to guard the [point guard] as well. I was getting a lot of open looks then; I was just missing them.

“You ask any shooter when he wants to get the ball, and it’s in rhythm and [when he’s] open,” he said. “Then it’s 50/50 when you shoot it. It’s going down now. It feels good.”

Oops! They did it again
After a season of watching teams try to shut down Kevin Garnett by denying the entry pass in the paint, the Celtics may have found the perfect solution: They are throwing the ball up to the rim and letting him go get it.

The C’s had three alley-oop plays to Garnett in last Sunday’s 124-100 pasting of the Mavericks, with Rondo the feeder twice. The electrifying play has become a staple of the team’s attack.

“It’s eye contact,” Rondo said. “We see a man cheating. KG’s such a great scorer that a lot of people try to deny him the ball. When that happens, we both make eye contact, he spins out — or he makes like he’s coming to set the pick — then he goes to the hole. It’s really hard to defend.”

The playground play is often like a trick play in football: It might work once but is not generally a go-to option. Only Rondo and Garnett have made it that way.

“Because you have the pick-and-roll action, if the defender doesn’t show I have the easy layup, if he does show you get KG for the pick-and-pop jump shot,” Rondo explained. “You have to honor the pick-and-roll. If you don’t, then I get the easy layup and that makes the point guard look bad.”

Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at ssouza@globe.com

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