Green Trends

Sometimes, numbers lie. Wednesday's TD Garden game versus the surging Clippers is one case in point.

As the stats tell the tale, one would think the Celts forgot to play defense again — as they had in their two prior games (first that nutty Kings game, then 3/4 of the Milwaukee contest). The numbers would have us wondering if a bad trend were starting to form.

This time you had to see the game to understand what really happened. The Cs played GREAT defense through most of the match, with only minor slippages. Rotations were crisp, coverages tight, P&Rs defended aggressively, and DeAndre Jordan contained. The explanation for Boston's bad-looking Defensive Rating in this game is the simplest one in basketball: The Clips hit tough shots — a lot of em.

Here's a typical Clippers clutch shot: Chris Paul's 28-footer as time ran out in Q3. That kind of thing happened a LOT in this game, and not just by CP3: Redick and Crawford joined the party too. It looked for a while like the Celtics would not be able to overcome LA's crazy-hot shooting, even though they actually outplayed the Clippers through most of the contest.

But the Cs stuck to their guns and pulled out the win with guts and glory, beating back both the Clips and the refs (whose mistakes near the end almost pushed the final result in LA's direction). A true team effort, anchored by tough defense and an offense that is truly SOARING lately.

It's a day-night contrast between the Cs' offense today and the way it was before January 10 (the day it all changed). And the Celts' defensive capability hasn't declined as much as the numbers may imply. The D is there when they need it — albeit somewhat obscured at times by certain disconnected numbers... like Wednesday's.

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


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. LA Clippers – Feb 10 2016:


This time, IT4 owned the paint
Cs’ Offensive Rating for this complete game = 126.2 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #1 offense in the NBA this season (by far). Both offenses scored at league-leading rates, both defenses allowed league-worst opponent scoring. It was that kinda game.
  • Prior to this game, LAC's defense was rated #8 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 103.5) — very good.
  • Versus the Celtics: LAC's defense performed much worse than the #30 D in the league (Def.Rtg. = 126.2) — very far from LAC's season average.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this complete game = 121.7 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #30 defense this season. Clips hit tough shots.
  • Coming into this game, the Clippers' offense was rated #6 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 107.7) — excellent.
  • LAC's O scored at a level equivalent to the #1 offense in the NBA (Off.Rtg. = 121.7) — even though Boston's defense was actually solid.
Pace: Each team had 100 possessions in regulation – a little faster than the Cs' season average (98.3 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.5/game. Total number of possessions including OT: 110.

Referees: Grade: C-. Observations: The crew of Derrick Stafford (#9), Bennie Adams (#47) and Scott Twardoski (#52) were inconsistent in their calls, confusing and screwing-over both sides on multiple occasions. In the game's final stages, especially in the beginning of OT, almost every call went LA's way — including several that were clear errors. Overall — a poor job by the officials.
  • Example of inconsistency: The refs did NOT call an offensive foul on this play at ~4:21 of the 2nd quarter, as Marcus Smart was sent sprawling by a clearly illegal D.Jordan moving screen. (See left side of screen, where Jordan and Smart meet.) Smh. But okay — so you'd think the refs just decided to let em play, right? Nope. Just look at the "fouls" they DID call......
  • At ~7:29 of the 4th quarter, Marcus Smart was again screened, this time by Cole Aldrich, who was whistled for an offensive foul. Here's the video clip. Yes, Cole slightly moved his hips, so there's an excuse to call a foul — but we're talking about consistency here. D.Jordan's offense was much worse, but was ignored.
  • Another example: At ~2:20 of the 2nd quarter, this foul was whistled on Sullinger, for lightly touching Jordan's back on a rebound. Make sense? Inconsistent officiating was the order of the night.
Now for the bad calls at the end of the game....
  • At ~0:53 of the 4th quarter, Bennie Adams (#47) called this foul on Marcus Smart at an extremely critical moment of the game — for, I think, having his hands on Redick's arms when Redick tripped. Bad call. There was no clear foul there: Redick fell, and Smart was in the wrong place when he did.
  • At ~3:03 of OT, Derrick Stafford (#9) whistled a pure-phantom foul on Sullinger as Chris Paul dribbled in. See the video. In fact, there was NO contact there of any kind. (The replay, not shown in the NBA-supplied clip, made that very clear.) It was pure invention — a terrible call, at an obviously critical point.
  • At ~2:17 of OT, Derrick Stafford (again) called a foul on Jonas Jerebko for running into Chris Paul in the beginning of a Clips possession. This was an extremely bad call on Stafford's part, because it was obvious that CP3 purposefully dribbled into Jerebko's way in order to draw the foul. Jonas actually STOPPED, but CP3 made sure the contact would be there. This was Chris Paul cheating the game. Yes, he did it "legally." Yes, it was a "smart" play. But it's still cheating the game. If you're going to compete at a high level, DON'T CHEAT LIKE THIS. If Derrick Stafford weren't so blind (or whatever), he'd have gotten the call right: offensive foul on CP3 — which would have been justice served. Here's the video clip. (Note: unfortunately, the NBA-supplied video doesn't show what actually happened — it was clear on both broadcasts.)
    • Update: The NBA's "Last Two Minute Report" on the game included this better video clip of this play. (Unfortunately, the NBA ignored the intentional nature of what Paul did, which, in context, makes this an offensive foul committed by CP3. So they mistakenly ruled it was a correct call.)


Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Clippers game...
  • Offensive Rating = 106.6 — ~#9 in NBA. (Range: #9–#11 in a very tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 102.3 — #3 in NBA. (Range: #2–#3 in a very tight group.)
  • Net Rating = +4.2 — #6 in NBA. (Range: #6–#7 in a tight group.)
Note: Ranges are given for the rankings because the groupings are so tight, exact placement is really a tossup that can change with every game the various teams play.

So the Celtics are going into the AS break ranked in the league's top-10 on offense, top-3 on defense, and #6 in Net Rating.

And they're still getting better. In key categories, this team remains on an upward trajectory — which means we don't know where they'll end up. Anything is possible. (Where have we heard that before??)

Here is a graph of the Celtics' season-to-date Net Opponent-Adjusted Ratings (OARs), with the trend line (green) showing a small but real ongoing upward movement. This indicates that the team's overall performance — measured against the known strengths of the opponents they've faced (both offense and defense) — is still improving.

And here are the season-to-date Offensive Opponent-Adjusted Ratings (OARs), with the trend line showing a markedly positive slope. This indicates that the team's offense, measured against the known defensive strengths of the opponents they've faced, is improving.

The defense, though, has definitely declined since the offense began rocketing upward, per the numbers. Some of that is undoubtedly natural and real, but a significant part appears to be uncertain and transient — games like the Clippers brouhaha (and SAC and MIL too) make the average Defensive Rating way worse, but don't necessarily accurately reflect the Cs' true defensive prowess.

Of course, these things will shake out as the season moves on. We will closely track just where the Celtics' defense lands, as that has become a prime area of concern for the team.
  • It's interesting that suddenly the defense is in question, when until very recently it was all about the offense. Times have changed. Fact is, the Cs' average Off.Rtg. over their last 10 games is 112.1, equivalent to #3 in the NBA. (Same for their last 15.) But in that span, the Def.Rtg. has averaged only ~104.5, equivalent to ~#12–#13 in the league.
  • Nevertheless, if you've been following the Celtics, you probably know that their defensive potential remains solid, perhaps as solid as ever. They will have to prove it again, though — after the break.

Notes & Ruminations:

  • The Clippers game was probably the most exciting of the season so far. But, imo, it was kinda faux because (a) the refs' mistakes made it closer than it would otherwise have been, and (b) that was not exactly the way the Cs want to play the game.
    • But it wasn't like the Green didn't defend. They did, and did it well. LA just made shots — so the Celts had to do the same.
  • Sully and Isaiah stood out in this one: both were great. The only guy who seemed off his game was Amir Johnson — which  makes (at least) two down games in a row for him. He could be less than perfectly healthy, for some reason. (If so, the time off now should help a lot.)
    • Oh, and Avery Bradley fouled his man, Redick, in overtime, TWICE IN 30 SECONDS — both times as he was shooting a three. (Avery's fouling cost the team a shot at winning the MIL game, and almost cost them this one. Yikes!)
  • The Cs go into the break in great position to finish the season with a bang. It's gonna be a lot of fun to watch. (Fingers crossed.)
  • Everybody have a great time with the All-Star silliness. Cya on the other side.

Green Trends is where we analyze the Celtics & identify emerging new trends — before they become obvious. Posts generally run within ~1-20 hours after Cs games.
Efficiency ratings source for comps: Basketball-reference.com. Misc: RealGM.com. (Note: Our formulas for pace and efficiency ratings are similar to those used by these sites, and most others — just a tad more accurate because we don't ignore team turnovers. NBA.com's numbers will differ, as they use different formulas.)

For an intro to the advanced stats used in Green Trends (née Green Stats), see: Green Stats: Intro to advanced stats +...

Photo: Jim Davis / Globe

Follow DRJ on Twitter @DRJ_CsNStats

DRJ 2/11/2016 07:01:00 AM Edit
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