The boys in green played tough defense in Friday night's match vs. the surprisingly tenacious New York Knicks — but only for ~15 minutes. It was enough. Just barely.

Right from the start this game smelled like a trap, as the Cs played their usual Rope-A-Dope first half — hanging in but not exerting serious defensive pressure.

Meanwhile, NYK hit tough shot after tough shot, while the Celts missed wide-open FGAs. For a long time it looked like the Celts wouldn't be able to pull this one out.

The 3rd quarter started as it has since the defense began its recent comeback for the Green (circa February 21) — with Avery Bradley picking up the opposing point guard at the midcourt line. It didn't work at first, as New York just kept making tough shots.

So Coach Stevens called a timeout less than a minute into Q3, after which the Cs finally came out breathing defensive fire. That lasted about 5 or 6 minutes — long enough for the Cs to make up a 10-point deficit and even pull ahead, briefly.

But the Knicks kept making tough shots, and pretty soon the fire went out again. Until the 4th quarter.

Then, with the game on the line, the Cs' defense came roaring back and this time the Knicks couldn't answer.

And so, despite very poor jump-shooting through most of this contest (the Cs scored 75% of their points either in the paint or at the FT line), and despite defending weakly much of the time — the Celtics found a way to win.

What kind of team does this? Championship-caliber. The ability to find ways to win even when very little is going right is a hallmark of true contenders.

[We'll talk about the Cs' Lineup of Death in the Notes section (below).]

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


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Knicks – Mar 4 2016:


The last shot (missed)
Cs’ Offensive Rating for this complete game = 109.8 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #4 offense in the NBA this season.
  • In the 1st half, the Cs' Offensive Rating was an excellent 111.5 — equivalent to #3 in the league. (Yeah, but NYK's Off.Rtg. was way higher: 122.0 — cuz they made tough shots.)
  • In the 2nd half, the Cs' Off.Rtg. dropped a bit — to 108.4, equivalent to #6 in the NBA — but remained reasonably effective thanks to their drives to the rim. (Jump shots just didn't fall for the Celts in this one.) Isaiah's drives, for example, were basically unstoppable all night long.
  • Prior to this game, NYK's defense was rated #20 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 107.9) — weak-to-mediocre.
  • For this complete game, NYK's D performed at a level equivalent to the NBA's #29 defense (Def.Rtg. = 109.8).
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this complete game = 108.8 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #27 defense this season. It was a tale of two halves....
  • In the 1st half, the Cs' Defensive Rating was a horrible 122.0 — equivalent to #30 in the league, by far.
  • In the 2nd half, that Def.Rtg. improved dramatically to 95.9 — equivalent to #1 in the NBA. It was the old Rope-A-Dope strategy, but it almost backfired this time.
  • Coming into this game, the Knicks' offense was rated #20 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 104.9) — weak-to-mediocre.
  • For this complete game, the Cs' D allowed NYK's O to score at a level equivalent to the NBA's #6 offense (Off.Rtg. = 108.8) — much higher than NYK's season average. But they shut em down when they had to.
Pace: Each team had 96 possessions – slower than the Cs' season average (98.7 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.7/game.

Referees: Grade: B. Observations: The crew of Marc Davis (#8), Tony Brown (#6) and Mitchell Ervin (#27) decided early on that they were going to let-em-play, but they didn't stick to that decision throughout. From time to time they would call ridiculous touch fouls — presumably because they felt like it. Other times, they let very egregious fouls go unwhistled. Not very consistent. To their credit though, the aberrations were evenly distributed, more or less, between the two teams.

At this point, I have to say something about Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn. Especially Tommy, whose on-air comments are sometimes — too often, lately — just embarrassing. Example: As Amir Johnson was egregiously fouling Lopez (~7:51 Q2) on replay video, Tommy said: "Where's the foul?" IT'S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU, TOMMY. Smh. Unbelievable. Another example: Jae Crowder's foot ended up under Melo's (~2:59 Q1) so Jae was (correctly) called for a foul, and as the slo-mo replay aired Mike asked, "What I missing here?" — to which Tommy replied with more incredulousness. C'mon guys. This is reality we're talking about. Get it right and stop the bs.
  • At ~0:39 of the 3rd quarter, Evan Turner was called for a traveling violation under the rim. What Evan did certainly looked funny, but the vision of the ref who made the call was blocked by Evan's body. Frame-by-frame review showed that in fact, Turner's dribble hit the floor before his pivot (right) foot did after he moved that foot. I.e., he didn't travel. Here's the video clip (but don't expect to be able to see the details clearly unless you can go frame-by-frame).
  • At ~0:22 of Q3, Evan Turner scored on a layup and was egregiously and obviously fouled by Porzingis in the process, right in front of the line ref. No call. Letting-em-play is one thing, but it was just too weird to not call that foul. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~6:36 of the 4th quarter, Evan Turner first went up for a layup and Lance Thomas pushed Evan's arm and body to the ground as he came down, then Melo pushed Jae Crowder to the ground as Jae went up for a layup after grabbing the rebound. No call on either foul. Again — just too egregious for standard let-em-play no-calls. Here's the video clip.
There were plenty of other uncalled fouls, on both sides. These were some of the worst ones that went uncalled for the Celts.
Note: The video clips linked to here are provided by the NBA. They are not always optimal. You may need to see the original broadcast — usually Boston's is best — to get the best views.
Tech Note: NBA clips are finicky and don't work in all browsers. Chrome should work okay. Javascript must be enabled, ad blockers turned off, etc.


Where do the Celtics stand now?


Season-to-date, after the Knicks game...
  • Offensive Rating = 107.1 — # 9 in NBA. (Range: #8–#10 in a tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 102.6 — # 3 in NBA. (Range: #3–#4 in a very tight group.)
  • Net Rating = +4.4 — # 7 in NBA.
Note: Ranges are given when the rankings of teams are so close, exact placement is effectively a tossup that can change with every game played.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • By the skin of their greeny green teeth the Celtics avoided a trap-game loss to a New York team playing much better than their record, as the Cs eked out a victory in the final minute with tough D and aggressive interior scoring. (Personally, I thought they'd lose this one until the very end.)
  • You gotta like the mutual respect shared by Carmelo Anthony and Jae Crowder, and the civilized way Kyle O'Quinn helped Isaiah off the ground after an inadvertent foul. Hat tip to NYC, on several levels.
  • Let's talk about Lineups of Death. The Warriors famously have theirs (SCurry, KThompson, AIguodala, HBarnes, DGreen), and it's an offensively-directed lineup that happens to also be really good on D. It puts points on the board faster than any other 5-man group in the NBA.

    The Celtics have their own version: a defensive Lineup of Death, which they've been using in second halves over their last ~7 games (since they got their defensive mojo back ~Feb 21). The exact personnel involved can vary a bit, depending on the opposition. Avery Bradley is always out there along with Jae Crowder or, sometimes, Evan Turner. (Crowder is standard, for maximum defensive pressure and turnovers; Turner is used if they need a bit more scoring punch. Both are elite defenders now.) Jared Sullinger is there for rebounding and defending tough bigs, and Isaiah Thomas keeps the offense humming and also works hard to harass his man. The last spot has lately been given to either Amir Johnson or Marcus Smart in Q3; this spot is flexible.
  • So the Celtics LoD lineup, 1 through 5, is: Isaiah, Avery, Crowder, Sully and Amir — with Avery cross-covering the opposing PG (which is key). Smart or Turner can sub in for Amir in which case Sully moves to the 5, Crowder's the 4, and Smart or Turner is the 3 — which seems to be the most effective version of all, and my fav.
  • When the Cs' LoD is on max, Avery picks up the opposing PG at the midcourt line, and everyone is whirling, swirling, covering every angle that's possible to cover. Most opponents just crumble when this lineup applies its maximum defensive pressure, sometimes in a matter of 1-2 minutes (like POR). Other times — when opponents make shots (like the Knicks did) — the pressure must be carried into the 4th quarter.
    • Are you curious to compare the Warriors' Death Lineup to the Cs'? Sure, sounds like fun. We'll do it in a separate post.
  • 19 games left and the Cs are playing elite basketball, gearing up for the playoffs. How cool is this?
  • Cavs are next on Saturday. Big test... again. Cya then.

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: John Wilcox

Follow Green Trends/DRJ on Twitter @DRJ_CsNStats

DRJ 3/05/2016 06:35:00 AM Edit
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