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Deciphering the Celtics

The Celtics proved tonight that the emperor really has no clothes. He's nekkid as can be. Bereft — like the Celtics' offense. And they lost to the Cavs 89-77.

There are three "great" teams in the NBA now — GSW, SAS, CLE — in that order (at least until Kyrie gets back and CLE becomes another superteam). Every team in the world would have a hard time beating any one of those top 3 — INCLUDING the top 3 themselves.

Prior to this game, it was heartening for the Cs to have had three close games with top-3 teams (2 x SAS, 1 x GSW). They did it with their elite defense. Great stuff, great story.

But NBA teams cannot live on defense alone. To join the league's highest echelon — leave mediocrity behind — the Celtics must retool. Because their offense, right now, is going nowhere. (More on this in the Where do they stand now? and Notes & Ruminations sections below.)

Here are details on the game, and where the club stands now...

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Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Cleveland – Dec 15 2015:

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Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 86.4 (!) (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the worst (#30+) offense in the NBA this season BY FAR. This is such a miserable, pathetic Off.Rtg., it almost defies description. Think of all the bad words you know, mash em together — that was the Celtics' offense through long stretches of this game.
  • Prior to this contest, CLE's defense was rated #10 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 102.0) — decent, not great.
  • In their last 15 games (before this one), the Cavs' Defensive Rating was quite a bit worse than their full-season rating, at ~103.7, equivalent to #13 in the NBA.
  • Versus the Cs, CLE's D performed like the #1 defense in the league BY FAR (86.4 Def.Rtg.) — but that number is deceiving. It wasn't the Cavs' defense that caused the Celtics to score so poorly — it was the Cs' lousy offense. The reason is pretty simple: they couldn't hit shots. Period. They missed, and missed, and missed some more — wide open threes, layups at the rim, simple 10-12-footers, it didn't matter. Until the game mercifully ended, and the brickmare finally, mercifully ended.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 99.8 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #4 defense this season. The Celtics' defense was great once again. They held the league's 4th best offense to a #28-level performance. Terrific work.
  • On the court: Yes, the Cs' D was excellent. And that plus ~ $3.75 will get you a latte at Starbucks — not much more. An NBA team cannot live on defense alone. At SOME point, you GOTTA PUT THE BALL IN THE BASKET. (You know what I mean? That's why they call it "basket-ball.")
  • Coming into this game, the Cavs' offense was rated #4 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 107.6) — great O. (And that's without Kyrie Irving, who's coming back soon.)
  • In their last 15 games (before this one), the Cavs' Offensive Rating was virtually identical to their full-season record (Off.Rtg ~107.8).
  • The Celts' D held CLE's O to a level equivalent to the league's #28 offense (99.8 OffRtg)! EXCELLENT D from the Cs, as usual. (Really, really worth the latte.)
Pace: Each team had 89 possessions – much slower than the Cs' season average to date (98.5 – #5 in NBA). League average = 96.2/game. The Cavs hold the pace down on purpose. Keeps their two superstars fresher.
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Referees: Grade: C. Observations: There were no egregiously bad calls noted, and very few fouls called altogether. But the refs just didn't do their jobs in this one. Readers of Green Stats know that I prefer games where the refs swallow their whistles, simply because that's so much pleasanter than the other extreme of endless calls. But there's gotta be a limit. These refs ignored DOZENS of fouls, on both sides (about equally) to the point where the game became kinda farcical as a result. For this reason (and this reason only) they get the relatively low grade.
  • At 5:24 of the 1st quarter, referee Eric Dalen (#37) whistled Lebron for traveling. James had dribbled to a jump stop on both feet, then jumped again and passed the ball in midair. That is a legal move. Below is the quote of the relevant rule. Note: Traveling violations are often called wrong by the refs; it's probably the most common error we see, mostly because the video is so often definitive.(no judgment involved).
    If a player jumps off one foot on the count of one he may land with both feet simultaneously for count two. In this situation, the player may not pivot with either foot and if one or both feet leave the floor the ball must be released before either return to the floor. (sic)

  • Note: No-calls are not listed here, because they're ubiquitous in every NBA game, and because they're only really interesting in cases of bias, where one side is getting all the whistles while the other team gets mauled by fouls that don't get called. Nothing like that happened in this game: both sides were hammered and both sides got very few calls.

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Where do they stand now?

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DEFENSE:
  • After the Cavs game, the Cs' full-season Defensive Rating = 99.4 — #3 in the league as of 12/15. Pre-game it was the same.
  • The Cs' defensive record over their last 15 games is now moderately worse than their full-season record — with Def.Rtg. ~101.2, equivalent to ~#7 in the NBA.
  • [League best full season Def.Rtg.= Spurs (93.7) | Worst= NOL (110.6) | NBA avg. = 104.1.]
OFFENSE:
  • After the Cavs game, the Cs' full-season Offensive Rating = 103.6 (pts/100-possessions) — #19 in the league as of 12/15. Pre-game it was ~104.3: #15. A bad turn for the O.
  • The Cs' offensive record over their last 15 games is now almost identical to their full-season record, with Off.Rtg. ~103.7, equivalent to ~#19 in the NBA.
  • [League best full season Off.Rtg.= Warriors (114.7) | Worst = PHI (93.4) | NBA avg. = 104.1.]
HOW ARE THEY DOING OVERALL, AND WHAT'S THE TREND?
  • After this game, Cs' full-season Net Rating = +4.2, #8 in the NBA (as of 12/15) — down from +4.9, #5.
  • [Stat Note: Net Rating (aka "Net Efficiency Rating") is a measure of how many more (or fewer) points the Cs have scored than their opponents, per 100 possessions (thus eliminating any effect of pace). It's derived by subtracting the Defensive Rating ("Def.Rtg.") from the Offensive Rating ("Off.Rtg."), and it is the single best measure we have for gauging overall performance.]
  • The numbers say that the defense is going very strong as usual, and the offense, which had been struggling, now appears to be headed south. Right now, the Cs stand at: #3 on D, #19 on O, and #8 overall, for the full season.
  • LAST 15 GAMES REVIEW =>> A team's record over its most recent 10-15 games, compared to its full season, can give us a good indication of the club's overall direction: Are they improving, regressing, or treading water?

    In their last 15 games (including CLE), the Celtics registered a Defensive Rating equivalent to ~#7 in the NBA (101.2), an Offensive Rating equivalent to ~#19 (103.7), and a Net Rating of +2.5, equivalent to ~#9 in the league.

    Comparing these most-recent results to the Cs' full season record, we see that:
    • The defense in recent games has declined moderately relative to the full season (from 99.4/#3 to 101.2/#7).
    • The offense has remained almost unchanged recently (103.6-103.7).
    • Overall performance as measured by the Net Rating dropped moderately in the last 15 games (from +4.2/#8 to +2.5/#9).
    Bottom line: It looks like the Celts are either plateauing now, or heading south after hitting an inflection point. It's probably a plateau, because the numbers are skewed now by three recent games against top-3 teams (SAS, GSW, CLE). In fact, the Celtics have played a full 42% (3/7) of their entire season's top-3 games in just the past 11 days.

    So we need to be patient and wait for the next few games to pass before concluding anything about the direction of this team. We'll know more soon. What we do know with some certainty now is that: the defense is elite, and the offense is mediocre (at best). Where they're heading overall is the open question (but they can't make "top 4" without some retooling of the offense).

    Note: If the Cs do plateau from here, we can expect to see their Net Rating stay in the #4 to #10 range from now on — unless, of course, something changes. (And something probably will change.... the trading season is upon us....)
  • Another tool for gauging the team's direction is our Opponent-Adjusted Ratings system ("OARs"). That stat is now teetering near the downside (but not quite there yet). The graph of the average OARs remains positive [Graph 1 below], but that indicator lags significantly behind current conditions (because it's dealing with the season averages of the OARs, not the raw OARs themselves). The trend of the raw Net OARs for each game [Graph 2 below] lags far less than that of the season averages — and that trend line's slope has just turned flat to slightly-negative. I.e., it can no longer be said with confidence that the Celtics are continuing to improve overall. They're flat now — probably due to the impact of the three recent games against top-3 teams.
    • Remember: OARs are a leading indicator. They show changes before those changes become visible in standard stat tables. If the OARs turn negative, it could be a harbinger of bad things to come — but it could also be temporary and turn into another inflection point to the upside. The argument for the 'temporary' explanation is strong now — those 3 recent games against top-3 teams. Inevitably, any team's stats would look worse after three such games — including the top-3 teams themselves. So we need to wait a while before concluding that the Cs are heading south. They could very well start right back up again, now that the worst of the schedule is behind them.



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Notes & Ruminations:

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  • After all the calculations and dust have settled, it remains clear that to get to that next step in this league, the Celtics must improve their offense — which (imo) cannot be done well enough without changing the roster to some extent.
    • We assume Danny's working on it.... (it's his job description). A talented scoring wing (who can also defend) would be a huge step forward, as would a really good 4/5 guy. Whoever they get — he/they better add some iron to the Cs' anemic offense. Cuz it's dyin out there....
  • In the first 11 minutes of this game, the Cs shot nothing but jump shots, except for a couple of fortuitous dunk/layups by Amir. The D kept them in the game early on.
  • But no one can hold Lebron James down forever. The Cs couldn't stop his drives to the rim, and then the rest of the Cavs started hitting shots — and then it was all she wrote real fast, in the 2nd half.
  • I don't think I've ever seen Brad Stevens throw in the towel as early as he did in this game. Guess he thought it was hopeless. (It was.) Question: Has Brad done an adequate job on the offense?
  • Some vexations from this one....:
    • Jonas Jerebko was retained this season because of two things he did well: defense and shooting. These days, it's just 1 thing: defense. His shooting has gone byebye, apparently for good (he's been off the whole season). It's December 15: Trading season!
    • David Lee does some good things. But his D is still suspect. He still does things like stand around all alone in the paint for 7-8 seconds until a ref is forced to call a defensive 3-second violation. Smh. And all those 0-footers he misses. It's December 15: Trading season!
    • Evan Turner still, from time to time, stands at the 3-point line waiting for a pass. WHY, Evan, WHY?? You can't hit the 3-ball to save your life. Your 3s are going in at a rate of 13.5%!! What are you doing??!? Evan Turner is one-of-a-kind, and we love the guy. But this is ridiculous.
    • Isaiah was way off his game. Too bad. He seems to have a hard time in big games. Or maybe it's just a blip.... Yeah, maybe.
    • Lebron still cries like a baby to the refs... and it works, dammit!
    • There were long sections of this game in which the Celtics just could not score a basket, even at the rim. 3rd quarter was the worst. Total brick-fest. How bad was it? According to SportsVU/NBA.com, they took 51 uncontested shots in the game, hit only 18 of them (35%). (See, it wasn't the Cavs' D.) They took 36 contested ones, and hit just 10 (28%). Bad.
      • LBJ may be a crybaby — but since the crying works, maybe.... umm.... nah, hellwithem. He crybaby.
      • I hope NBA.com stops airing Celtics games. There's nothing I like about them. Their banter is silly/not funny. Their technicals suck, as the picture went blank twice during the action. Etc. Please bother other teams. I don't wanna hear anybody but Mike and Tommy.
      • Next up is Detroit. Tough team, etc... but not top-3. Whew.

      • Cs won't see another top-3 team until February. Small favors. We'll take em.

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      Green Stats runs after each Celtics game, right here, usually within ~ 1 to 20 hours of the final horn. Note: Some posts will be (much) longer than others.
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      Efficiency ratings source for comps: Basketball-reference.com. Misc: RealGM.com. (Note: Our formulas for pace and ratings are similar to those used by these sites, and most others. NBA.com's numbers will differ somewhat, as they use different formulas.)

      For an intro to the advanced stats used here in Green Stats, see: Green Stats: Intro to advanced stats +...

      Photo: Stuart Cahill / Boston Herald


      Follow DRJ on Twitter @DRJ_CsNStats

      DRJ 12/16/2015 02:36:00 AM Edit
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