Travis Knight for Three!

November 12, 1997
This is where the Celtics' long-range shooting offense is now: Their 7-foot center, who really is a small forward, is their best 3-point shooter among the starters.

Not any of those scrappy, gunning guards. Not any of the sleek, Kentucky-credentialed forwards.

Nope, Travis Knight, who did not attempt a 3-pointer in 1,156 minutes with the Lakers last season and took only five in four years at Connecticut (missing them all), is the Celtics' best shooter from international waters. 

Through six games, Knight has taken 14 3-pointers and made seven. That works out to 50 percent, which is twice as effective as the Celtics as a team. Knight and reserve Bruce Bowen (3 for 4) stand alone and apart from the rest of the team.

What in the world of Rick Pitino is going on here? If there has been one constant to Pitino's teams, it has been the three. Where Earl Weaver used to win with pitching, defense, and three-run homers, Pitino has won with pressing, defense, and 3-point shots.

The Celtics are pressing on occasion, defending on occasion, and making threes on rare occasions. Boston's bombers have launched 103 shots from behind the new/old line of death, converting a scant 26. Dee Brown (1 for 13), Dana Barros (4 for 19), Chauncey Billups (3 for 15), and Antoine Walker (5 for 23) are all prime candidates for Rim-Rattlers Anonymous.

"You could say it's the new line, but I don't think that's it," said Barros, who is a career 42 percent shooter from 3-point territory. "I know I don't have any excuses. I'm getting good looks. I think in my case, I've been concentrating so much on defense that my offense might be off a little. I'm not in the rhythm I'd like to be."

In the last two games, the Celtics have attempted 26 3-pointers and made only three. Pitino, who has numbers and goals for just about everything, doesn't have any specific numbers in mind this year for threes. But Brown said the general goal is to outscore the opponent by 24-6 in 3-pointers.

So far, the Celtics have been outscored, 90-78.

"I think that 50 percent of it is that we've taken challenged threes," Pitino said yesterday. "Unless the shot clock is expiring, a good basketball team should never take a challenged three. You should make the extra pass. It's a difficult shot enough as it is."

Walker is the team's leading bomber. He sometimes will settle for the three when other options are more apparent. He also has been known to miss one and come right back with a second attempt off a long rebound.

Is there pressure on the players to take the shot when it's there? Brown says he's conscious of the line when he's open on the perimeter and conscious that the boss likes them to fire away.

"If you shoot the ball in front of the line, he doesn't like that," Brown said. "Don't step on the line. Don't be one step in front of the line. It might make a difference in the shot. I know I do that sometimes. I think about where I am instead of just shooting it."

In regard to Walker, Pitino said, "If you've created ball movement and he has a wide-open shot, it's OK. If you've made one pass and you take that shot, it's really counterproductive. With this basketball team, if Antoine takes it, who's going to rebound? That's the main thing. It's not that Antoine is good or bad. It's who's going to rebound the shot?"

The three isn't going away. The Celtics are averaging 17 attempts a game; opponents are attempting only 12 and have made four more. Last year over the first six games, the Celtics had taken two fewer threes. And that was with the closer line.

"I wasn't here last year, but all the NBA games I saw, there was always some big guy taking a three that you didn't think should be taking one," Billups said. "I don't think you see it that much now. This line is a long way out, a lot longer than what I'm used to. It's totally different."

Among those who has resisted the three is Ron Mercer. He has taken only three and made one. He's also shooting 55 percent from the field, well above the team average of 41.2 percent.

Pitino said there are more pressing concerns on his plate than missed 3-pointers. (He's right about that.) He said next season he would like to see the team average 20 attempts a game, making eight. That's a 40 percent success rate, a rarity. Last season, again with the closer line, only one team (Charlotte) shot 40 percent or better (42.8) from international waters.

"This year I don't think we have enough people who are going to take the three on a consistent level and who are strong enough to make the three right now," Pitino said. "I would much rather see other things develop than taking 20 threes a game and have eight completed. I would much rather see us focus on other areas."

And he certainly has plenty of areas on which to focus.

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