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Deciphering the Celtics

Isaiah Thomas curled up and disappeared — along with most of the Celtics' offense — in a game where Boston had MANY chances to pull ahead, and several excellent opportunities to win, only to fall short in 2nd overtime due to a pure inability to score points.

Some folks like to think of high-level basketball as the "beautiful game." Well, this one was not beautiful. This was an officiating nightmare foisted on the world by three of the worst referees ever to blow a whistle. Their endless parade of wrong-headed calls never abated, even through the double overtime — so that by the finale, all of the contestants and most observers were happy to see the whole stinking mess end, one way or the other.

Let's be clear about one thing: The bad calls affected both teams — but most of the bad calls went against Boston, including several key whistles near the end of regulation and in both overtime periods that ultimately sealed the Celtics' fate.

And yet, Boston had plenty of chances to win. They lost in the end because they simply could not find an offense. Heck, they couldn't even break 60% on their free throws. (Ahem, Sully!) The refs had nothing to do with all that.

Given the intense national interest in this game, and the free League Pass offer that brought in millions of new viewers, this game cannot be considered anything but a massive embarrassment for the NBA. All those millions of people just got to see how badly three referees can screw up a game. Opportunity blown.

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

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Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Golden State – December 11 2015:

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Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 97.7 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #29 offense in the NBA this season.
  • On The Court: The Celtics just could not find an offense in large sections of this game. Part of that was the Dubs' defense; the other part was because the Cs' just DON'T HAVE a very good offense when they're put under serious defensive pressure. There were times when they seemed to have no offensive plan at all, as one possession after another devolved into ISO ball by either Isaiah or Evan. (And when Isaiah has an off night as he did in this game — well, there's very little left.)
  • Prior to this game, GSW's defense was rated #8 in the league (DefRtg = 101.7) — good, not great. But note: This same team had the league's #1 D last season. We've often seen them stop pressing on defense when they get so far ahead that they just don't need to work anymore. I.e., GSW probably still has one of the best defenses in the league — when and if they need it.
  • In their last 15 games* (before this one), the Warriors' Defensive Rating has been significantly worse than their full-season record, at ~104.9 — equivalent to #18 in the NBA. But as noted, that is not a true indication of the strength of GSW's defense. They're actually GREAT on D, when they wanna be.
  • Versus the Cs, GSW's D performed like the #2 defense in the league (97.7 DefRtg). As noted, part of that is related to the Cs' offensive deficiencies.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 101.8 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #9 defense this season.
  • On The Court: The Cs' defense kept them in this game. Often, the only clearly effective offense they could muster came from the defense.
  • Coming into this game, the Warriors' offense was rated #1 in the league (116.4 Off.Rtg.) — absolutely great. One of the greatest of all time.
  • In their last 15 games* (before this one), the Warriors' Offensive Rating has been even better than their full-season record, at (an astounding) ~118.3. I.e., their offense has been kicking all kinds of butt (which is probably why their D dialed back somewhat).
  • The Cs' D held GSW's O in this game to a level equivalent to the league's #22 offense (101.8 OffRtg). This was an EXCELLENT showing by Boston's defense, in light of the power of the offense they were facing. The Dubs aren't just #1 in the league, they're #1 BY FAR — and not just this year, but compared to ANY YEAR. Holding them to a #22 level of offense is GREAT WORK.
Pace: Each team had 122 possessions in double overtime. This equates to ~101 possessions in a standard 48-minute game – a bit faster than the Cs' average for the season to date (98.4 – #5 in NBA). League average = 96.3/game.
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Referees: Grade: F. Observations: There were many egregiously bad calls noted, affecting both sides, whistled by all three refs: Monty McCutchen (#13), Kane Fitzgerald (#5) and Aaron Smith (#68). The Celtics took the brunt of the refs' malfeasance.
Aarrrrgggghhh...
WARNING: This is a rather 'masochistic' list. Consider skipping to the last two points.
  • At 6:37 of the 1st quarter, a rebound was deflected out of bounds by Andrew Bogut, from the left side of the Warrior's basket. Referee Kane Fitzgerald (#5) — with the first of a deluge of referee mistakes — called it Warriors' ball. Bad call.
  • At ~8:45 of the 2nd quarter, Marreese Speights dropped his shoulder on a drive to the rim and slammed shoulder-first into Kelly Olynyk, who held himself straight upright and never touched Speights with his hands. Monty McCutchen (#13) called this a blocking foul on Olynyk — in the first of his many, many bad calls of the night.
  • At ~4:01 of the 2nd quarter, Isaiah Thomas was called for an offensive foul after driving into Bogut — who had barely made it to his spot in front of Isaiah and was CLEARLY standing on the restricted area line throughout the encounter. This was an obvious block call, but Aaron Smith (#68) somehow managed to call it an offensive foul on Isaiah. It was an egregiously bad call, by a ref who appeared to have no idea about how the game of basketball is supposed to be played.
  • At ~3:43 of the 2nd quarter, Draymond Green, while driving to the rim, fell forward at great speed, hitting Amir Johnson in the chest as a result, while Amir was backpedaling as fast as he could. No sighted human would dare call that a blocking foul on the defender. But that's exactly what Monty McCutchen (#13) did. (He did stuff like this all night long — he was, by far, the worst offender.)
  • At ~2:55 of the 2nd quarter, Jonas Jerebko was called for a blocking foul by Kane Fitzgerald (#5): Jonas had stood his ground, stationary and out of the restricted area, while Draymond Green plowed into him, clearly committing an offensive foul. At this point, the game's officiating pattern was obvious — it clearly favored the Warriors in the first half.
  • It's amazing how quickly people forget the past in a game like this. At halftime, the refs had ALREADY wrongly taken about 5 possessions and 10 points from the Celtics. And this is what's called a "great" game?
  • At 3:42 of the 3rd quarter, Jae Crowder swiped at the ball as Steph Curry drove by him, heading to the rim. Replay showed that Jae hit only the ball and Curry's hand (considered "part of the ball" under NBA rules). But this did not stop Monty McCutchen (#13) from adding to his portfolio of egregious mistakes by calling a foul on Crowder.
  • At 3:21 of the 3rd quarter, Jae Crowder was fouled on a drive to the rim. The refs, after conferring, decided to call the foul on Steph Curry. Problem was: Curry had NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PLAY. He was 100% innocent, and argued his case accordingly (to no avail, of course). This was Curry's 4th foul and it forced him to the bench — i.e, this was a mistake that had a huge impact on the Dubs' game.
  • At ~9:08 of the 34th quarter, Aaron Smith (#68), who apparently has never seen a good defensive play, whistled what turned out to be a very damaging foul on Avery Bradley when Avery knocked the ball away from a dribbling Curry. Replay showed that it was a clean play and a bad call.
  • At ~2:44 of the 4th quarter, Evan Turner drove into the teeth of the defense, got slammed for his trouble — but no whistle was heard. Question: Are the Celtics pinatas for the NBA? Because there's no rational way to understand the pattern of officiating in this game.
  • At ~1:17 of the 4th quarter, Monty McCutchen (#13) whistled a foul on Evan Turner for contact with Curry. Another bogus call.
  • At ~3:41 of OT1, Monty McCutchen (#13) called a 6th foul on Avery Bradley, sending him to the bench. Replay showed that this was another bogus call by McCutchen.
  • At 0:17.8 of OT2, Shaun Livingston, while driving away from the basket with a rebound, barreled hard into Jae Crowder near the Warrior's sideline. This was a true 50:50 call. And of course, which way do you think Monty McCutchen called it? You guessed it: foul on Jae, of course.
  • But when, at ~0:14 of OT2, Jae Crowder was clearly and OBVIOUSLY fouled on his drive to the rim, McCutchen's whistle was strangely silent, as were all the others.
  • Monty McCutchen was the leader of this crew of referees, and he made the worst calls of the night — both in quantity and quality. McCutchen is an experienced ref, and it is therefore hard to believe he could honestly make SO MANY mistakes in one game, and have so many go in only one direction. So while it is true that refs will always make some mistakes naturally, the number and generally-single direction of the calls on this night were unusual, and suspicious.
  • So the question is begged: Was the NBA trying to help the streak continue — or was this travesty simply the product of three very bad referees? One would think it must be the latter, because nobody is stupid enough to believe fans can't see what's happening on their own high-def television sets. Right? Right. But just in case — Tommy Heinsohn and Mike Gorman made sure, in their broadcast of this game, that EVERYONE was aware of the refs' shenanigans. That, at least, was good to see/hear. Good show, guys.

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Where do the Cs stand now?

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*Note: We've added last-15-games data to the analyses of the Celtics and their opponents. Reason: to catch new trends well before they can be seen in full-season stats.

DEFENSE:
  • After the Warriors game, the Cs' full-season Defensive Rating = 99.6 — #3 in the league, as of 12/11. Pre-game it was ~99.47: #3.
  • The Cs' defensive record over their last 15 games* is now slightly worse than their full-season record — Def.Rtg. ~100.4, equivalent to ~#5 in the NBA.
  • [League best full season Def.Rtg.= Spurs @ 94.5 | Worst= Pelicans @ 111.1 | League avg. = 104.0.]
OFFENSE:
  • After the Warriors game, the Cs' full-season Offensive Rating = 104.5 (pts/100-possessions) — #14 in the league, as of 12/11. Pre-game it was 104.9: #14.
  • The Cs' offensive record over their last 15 games* is now better than their full-season record, with Off.Rtg. ~105.6, equivalent to ~#9 in the NBA.
  • [League best full season Off.Rtg.= Warriors @ 116.4 | Worst = Philly @ 93.4 | League avg. = 104.0.]
HOW ARE THEY DOING OVERALL, AND WHAT'S THE TREND?
  • After this game, Cs' full-season Net Rating = +4.9, #7 in the NBA (as of 12/11) — down from +5.5, #4.
  • [Stat Note: Net Rating (aka "Net Efficiency Rating") is a measure of how many more (or fewer) points the Cs scored than their opponents, per 100 possessions (thus eliminating any effect of pace). It's derived by subtracting the Defensive Rating ("DefRtg") from the Offensive Rating ("OffRtg"), 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 seemed to be improving, is edging into limbo, awaiting direction. Right now, the Cs stand at: #3 on D, #14 on O, and #7 overall, for the full season.
  • NEW =>> In their last 15 games* (including GSW), the Cs have registered a Defensive Rating equivalent to #5 in the NBA (100.4), an Offensive Rating equivalent to ~#9 (105.6),and a Net Rating of +5.2, equivalent to #6 in the NBA. A team's record over its most recent 15 games usually provides a good indication of the direction in which the club is heading. We can see that the Celts were, in their last 15 contests, in the NBA's Top-10 on both offense (#9 Def.Rtg.) and defense (#5 Off.Rtg.), and that their overall Net Rating was a little higher than their full-season mark.
  • All this indicates that the Cs are currently playing at a near-elite level (over their last 15 games), and are generally improving over time. However, the Warriors game was instructive in pointing out that when faced with a tough defensive squad, the Celtics currently have no reliable offensive answers. They need to work on that between now and the playoffs — because they're gonna need those answers before then.
  • The general direction of the OARs (Opponent-Adjusted Ratings) remains positive, indicating that the Cs are, on average, beating league-average expectations (based on opponents' strengths). The slope of the OARs' trend line indicates that they're continuing to improve.

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Notes & Ruminations:

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Mama said there'd be days like this...
  • You may hear and/or read a lot about what a "great" game this was. How "thrilling" it was. No. Two reasons: (1) As Brad said, there's no such thing as a "great," or even "good" loss. (2) It was a potentially great game, ruined by the referees. Any contest as filled with egregious, head-scratching errors as this one was cannot, by definition, be considered "great." This was an embarrassment to the NBA — nothing more.
  • NBA.com has a headline about this "epic" game, yada, yada, yada. — conveniently ignoring the officiating debacle we saw. I wonder: Should I believe NBA.com, or my eyes? Hmmm... tough one!
  • Olynyk had himself a breakout game: 28 points, 3-6 from deep, 11-21 overall, plus 3 assists, 3 steals, and some good D. Seemed like GSW just didn't know what to do with him. (They kept guarding him with guys 4"-6" too short.)
  • David Lee did a great job in early 4th quarter. Good to see him get some licks in.
  • Cs did an excellent job guarding Curry. Brad Stevens wisely gave Bradley that job, instead of Thomas (who was our choice pre-game). The way IT was playing, Curry would have probably gone off for 50.
  • Bradley was terrific on both ends. Had he not been forced to leave the game (improperly), who knows how it might have turned out.
  • That Draymond Green is one helluva player. His histrionics are a little over the top sometimes (especially when he's just getting the benefit of egregious ref calls) — but there's no denying his value. Easily the most versatile "center" in the league. (It's in quotes because there's no way he's actually a "center." He's a SAK ["Swiss Army Knife"], is what he is.) Props.
  • Iguodala was very impressive too. He's that guy off the bench — that one guy that stabs you in the heart just as you think you're got a shot. Props Iggy. Sheesh -- that's a ridiculous team...
  • Some vexatious vexations we noticed from the Cs in this one:
    • Through longgg stretches of this game — mostly in the 3rd quarter and especially in 2nd overtime — the Celtics just could not buy a basket for love or money. They'd run around, look at each other quizzically, and eventually go into some variation of a weak ISO scoring attempt. I.e., the DEFAULT plan of action for this offense is "somebody go one-on-one already" — usually either IT or ET. It was a horror show at times.... especially when compared so specifically to the Warriors' FAR more developed offense.
    • Cs need help. Not just a scoring beast on the wing (which they certainly need) — they also need a better offensive SYSTEM. They need plays they can pull out when the going gets tough, so they're not standing around looking lost in space. Brad.... wazzup?
    • Free throws! Cs missed 7/16 — more than enough to have turned the game. Sully is by far the worst major offender — hitting just 64% of his FTs this season. Jared — get thee to a shooterie. Stat!
    • Evan Turner has a HORRIBLE HABIT of dribbling the ball behind his back when he drives. He does this REGARDLESS OF THE DEFENDERS AROUND HIM. It sounds crazy, and it IS crazy. He will literally throw the ball behind his back — where he momentarily loses all control of it, of course — right in the middle of a drive, even when there are 2 or 3 or even 4 guys surrounding him. It's a SURE TURNOVER — and he does it almost EVERY TIME. Someone on the Celtics needs to sit him down with some video and SHOW him how crazy this is. It's GOTTA STOP.
    • And Evan -- you actually attempted a three with less than 2 minutes left in overtime. Have you completely lost your mind? You're hitting 3s at the astounding rate of 14.3%! You're like Bizarro Curry. You know that, right?
    • At ~11:00 of the 3rd quarter, Amir got the ball near the center of the 3-point line, and proceeded to take the slowest shot in NBA history — so slow, that he ultimately got blocked by a guy who was ~14 feet away when he started his shooting motion. Smh.
    • After a brief respite, Cs' are back to missing too many shots at the rim. Easy bunnies. Can they even practice that sort of thing?
    • The Celtics gave up way too many offensive rebounds in this game. This weakness in defensive rebounding was the only chink in the Cs' defensive armor, and it was a costly one, as the Warriors capitalized with 14 second-chance points (compared to 11 by the Cs).
    • Isaiah Thomas had a lousy game. He was 2-8 from the 3pt line, and 7-22 (32%) overall. He also had 6 turnovers (though at least one of them was a wrong offensive foul call) — and worst of all, he blew ALL THREE CHANCES he personally got to put the game away, including the very last good shots in both regulation and the first overtime period, plus a critical WIDE OPEN three in OT2. When the Celtics needed IT the most — he couldn't answer the call, and the Celtics fell as a result.
    • It got so bad that I was actually happy to see Thomas go to the bench with ~26 seconds left in the second overtime and Boston down 1 point. (First time that's ever happened.... being happy that he sits, that is.)
  • The Warriors took 39 free throws to the Celtics' 16. More than double. Tommy made sure nobody could ignore the disparity. Gotta love Tommy.
  • No shame in losing to the best team in basketball. Especially when you took em to two overtimes — despite the many ridiculopathies thrown up by the officials.
  • I don't know if I can take another game tomorrow night. It's on nights like this that I feel for the guys on the team — who actually had to fly to Charlotte for it. I guess we all have our burdens to bear. Peace.

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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 +...


Brad Stevens photo: Jamie Rhodes, USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah Thomas photo: Jim Davis/Globe Staff


Follow DRJ on Twitter @DRJ_CsNStats

DRJ 12/12/2015 06:34:00 AM Edit
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