Celtics: Masters of the Defensive Run / Cs-Rockets game analysis

Green Stats: BOS-HOU - 

Everybody knows about NBA runs. Every team has them, multiple times per game. Much rarer in the NBA is the defensive run — when one team suddenly can't get a shot off for several minutes in a row. Not many teams in history have been capable of regularly putting on defensive runs. The 2015-16 Celtics are doing it. They've done it in each of their last three games, and it seems likely they'll continue for some time to come.

Standard (offensive) runs generally happen because when Team A scores, Team B must bring the ball in from out-of-bounds. That tends to slow B's offense, forcing B into half-court sets, which can help Team A get another stop — and start a run (which can then become self-sustaining, etc.).

Defensive runs are different. Something else happens, something mostly psychological. When Team A has its ball stolen once, and then again almost immediately — players start questioning everything they're doing. They get demoralized, start hesitating. After the third steal or turnover, Team A is often thrown completely off its game — after which every added turnover makes Team A even more susceptible to the next one. The result can be a full-fledged defensive run by Team B (assuming it maintains its defensive pressure, natch).

And that is exactly what the Celtics have been doing lately. They did it again in the 2nd quarter of the Houston game, when a long, pretty-amazing defensive run brought the Cs back from a double-digit deficit to a tie score at halftime. Note: The steals and forced TOs continued into the second half (though not as a definite single 'defensive run'), helping the Green blow out the Rockets.

You know how the Cs have been starting games so slowly this season? (Happened again vs. HOU.) It seems they're actually taking the measure of their opponents in the beginning of a game. They study their rhythms and patterns, planning their attack. At some point — when the coach says 'go' — the Celtics take all their studied information and start applying MAXIMUM DEFENSIVE PRESSURE on every possession. (Imagine Smart AND Bradley in maximum attack mode. Yikes!) The result is often a confused, demoralized opponent — and another defensive run.

Defensive runs are things of beauty, imo. Treasures of the NBA. The Celtics have been bestowing these pleasures on us a lot lately — nice, green-wrapped gifts of the season. Something to be thankful for. Go Cs.


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. HOU – Nov 16 2015:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 109.4 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to #2 in the NBA this season (#6 last season). This is the third game in a row in which the Cs' O has outperformed their season record. It's starting to look like a real move up.
  • Rockets had the NBA's #8 defense last season. Prior to this game, HOU's D was rated #29 in the league (DefRtg = 108.9) — bad. And that's how they performed vs. the Cs — about as bad as they have been (#29).

Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 93.6 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #1 defense this season (#1 last season too).
  • HOU's offense last season averaged 107.0 pts/100 possessions, #12 in the NBA. Coming into this game, their offense was rated #19 in the league (102.0 Off.Rtg.).
  • This was another great defensive performance by the Cs — and excellent as it was, the reality was even better, because the Cs let the Rockets stage a pretty big run in the 4th after the outcome had already been determined (with HOU down by ~29 points).

Pace: Each team had 101 possessions – faster than the Celtics' and league averages. Cs now average 99.1 possessions/game, ~5th in the league. League average is currently 96.9 (dropping steadily closer to last year's 93.9).

Refs: Grade: B-. Observations: There were 3 egregiously bad calls in this game. In the 2nd quarter, Brian Forte miscalled an out-of-bounds play as a Celtics turnover (even though no ref gave the ball to the inbounder); in the 3rd quarter, Ed Malloy called an offensive foul on Crowder for supposedly kicking his leg out on a jump shot (which did not happen); and then Eli Roe made the stupidest call of the game, embarrassing himself and the whole crew by unloading THREE technical fouls (2 on HOU, 1 on BOS) on one play in which basically nothing happened. Amir fell and folks gathered round. That's all. Three techs. Sometimes, ya gotta wonder about these refs. Just gotta. Bottom line: This crew otherwise called a pretty decent game.


Where do the Cs stand now?


  • Before this game, the Celtics' Defensive Rating was #4 in the league, at 97.2 pts allowed/100-possessions. (That would have easily been #1 last season, btw.)
  • After this game, Def.Rtg. = 96.8#3 in the NBA. Got that? The Cs' have the 3rd best defense in the NBA!
  • The Celtics have played 10 games to date, and their defense has earned the #3 position in the league, so far. But something surprising happens if we theoretically remove just the two Indiana contests: Turns out the Cs' defense in the remaining games rates as THE BEST IN THE NBA. Numero uno. I don't know why the Pacers, of all teams, gave them such a hard time. Maybe the Green were still learning then. Whatever the reason, it's interesting to note that versus the other eight NBA teams they've faced — all decent-to-good teams, except PHI — the Celtics' D has been the best in the league. I.e., since BOS is playing at such a high defensive level most of the time, it's looking more and more possible that the Cs will have the #1 (or #2) defense in the NBA sometime soon.
  • [The Spurs have the league's best Def.Rtg. right now @ 95.2, while the Pelicans' D is at the bottom @ 110.8. League average = 103.5. Note: At this early stage of the season, positions can change substantially every night.]

  • The Cs' overall Offensive Rating for the season, after this game, stands at 103.5 pts/100-possessions — ~#13-14 in the league (standings are tight there). [Prior to the game, it was 102.8: #15.]
  • The offense has shown clear improvement in the past three games. This qualifies as a possible real move upward, after the team's O previously tread water through the early season, see-sawing between poor and mediocre. If the offense ends up cracking the top 10, and the Cs maintain their top-5 defense — well, what can ya say? They'd be major contenders at that point. No two ways about it.
  • [Golden State leads the league in Off.Rtg. @ 114.2; PHI is at the bottom with 95.7. League average = 103.8. Note: At this early stage of the season, positions can change substantially every night.]

  • The team's season Net Rating (OffRtg minus DefRtg, aka 'Net Efficiency Rating') — a measure of how many more (or fewer) points the Cs score than their opponents — is +6.7 pts per 100 possessions, #5 in the NBA. Note: This stat, sometimes also called "scoring differential," is the single best one for measuring overall team performance. If the Cs are #5 in Net Rating, then they probably are the ~5th best team in the league right now, overall. 
  • Repeat: The Celtics are THE FIFTH BEST TEAM IN THE NBA RIGHT NOW — per their Net Rating (the gold standard of performance stats). And btw, they're a hair away (0.1) from #4.
    Two (of many) Celtics defensive BEASTS
  • The numbers say that the defense is definitely elite AND trending upward, and that the offense has been mediocre AND is now showing clear signs of upward movement. We'll see soon if the movement of the offense is something real, or not.
  • The Cs' overall trend is clearly positive — not only is their D elite and getting better with time, now the offense is making a move too, rising to #13 after improving significantly over the past 3 games. This means that, barring new info, the Celtics can be expected to: continue to outperform expectations.
  • FYI: Trends here are determined using a new stat I call "Opponent Adjusted Rating" ("OAR") — which adjusts each game's Offensive and Defensive Rating to account for opponent strength. The exact formulas for all Opponent Adjusted Ratings will be presented in a separate post, coming soon. (This will be a Green Stats special for all the hardcore statheads out there!)


Quick Notes:

  • It's all about the D with this group of Cs. I don't remember any team ever depending so heavily on its defense — not only to get stops, but also to feed its offense. We're witnessing a remarkable display of defensive tenacity these days, by a group of guys who just don't like to lose. It's that simple. Guys like Smart, and Crowder and Bradley and Thomas — and heck, this WHOLE TEAM — these are the toughest guys in the league. (Size is not what makes em tough.) Don't believe me? Try holding on to a basketball when they're determined to take it from you. The NBA is finding out just how hard that can be.
  • HOU shot 52% on their free throws (12-23). (Howard was only 1-2.) Ya think maybe they were a bit demoralized?
  • Gotta give credit where it's due: Isaiah Thomas has become a defensive beast this season, on top of his other feats of glory. He is SUCH an amazing athlete!
  • This was another excellent game by the Cs, albeit against a not-very-good (nor particularly motivated) Houston team.
  • We'll be continuing the Western Conference Demolition Tour at TD Garden on Wednesday, with the Mavs. See ya there!

Green Stats runs an analysis of each Celtics game, usually within ~ 1 to 20 hours after the final horn.
Note: Some posts will be (much) longer than others.

Efficiency ratings source for comps: Basketball-reference.com

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

Photo (M.Smart): Charles Krupa/AP
Photo (A.Johnson/I.Thomas): Barry Chin/BG

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