Celtics' offense dies vs Pacers / Stats & analysis

Green Stats:

The Celtics, in the 2nd game of an away/home back-to-back sequence, faced the Pacers Wednesday night in a game marred by lousy officiating and frustration. Prior to this contest, IND had the NBA's #10 defense — but they looked A LOT better than that on Wednesday. How good was the Pacers D? I.e., how bad was the Cs' O (which many had hoped was on the mend)? Check the title again, please.

Meanwhile, Boston's vaunted defense — recently rated #4 in the league — took a (small) step backward with a mediocre performance against an IND team whose offense had averaged no better than #27 in the league prior to this game.

Note: The Celtics suffer disproportionately from bad refereeing in the NBA. This is explained below in general form, and in more detail in a separate post. But if you're wondering why it seems like the Cs usually lose games where the refs are incompetent and/or out-of-control — there could be a good reason for that.

Cs' Offensive & Defensive Efficiency Ratings vs. IND – Nov 11 2015:
Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 92.5 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to #30 in the NBA this season (and last season too). I.e., the offense was AWFUL.
  • There were some obvious reasons: Thomas continued his recent excrementally poor shooting (ever since he started starting), this time negatively aided by Smart's even-worse accuracy (was it rust?). The Pacers also forced a lot of turnovers (18). 
  • Further diminishing the Celtics' offense was the relative weakness of their defense: The Cs normally thrive on (easy) offense created by their hyper-aggressive D and the turnovers it generates. That scoring went mostly AWOL Wednesday.
  • Pacers had the NBA's #7 defense last season. Prior to this game, IND's D was rated #10 in the league (DefRtg = 100.7). The Cs' horrible offense made the Pacers' defense look like #1 in the NBA. Yep: best of the best.

Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 103.7 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #16 defense this season (#10 last season).
  • IND's offense last season averaged 103.5 pts/100 possessions, #23 in the NBA (with key injuries). Coming into this game, their offense's was rated #27 (99.3 Off.Rtg.) — with George still working on his comeback.
  • The Cs' defensive mediocrity was not caused exclusively by the particular offensive brilliance of the Pacers (though Paul George was excellent). There was also a more nefarious factor: the poor officiating. The refs called too many phantom fouls, missed many actual egregious ones, and generally seemed to do their best to screw things up. When refs are bad, the first thing to suffer is defense, because they call their fouls mostly on defenders. Bad refs, therefore, are especially bad for the Celtics, because the Cs DEPEND on their defense to win games — more so than most teams, certainly more so than IND, and probably more exclusively so than any other team in the league. When they can't play their normal hyper-aggressive D, the Celtics lose the linchpin that defines their team. It makes it hard for them to win any game.

Pace: Each team had 98 possessions – an average pace. Cs are currently averaging 100 possessions/game, ~#6 in the league. (The league average is currently 97.2.)

So where do the Cs stand now?
"Did I really just get
dressed up for nothing?"
- Before this game, the Celtics' Defensive Rating was #4 in the league, at 97.1 pts allowed/100-possessions. (That would have easily been #1 last season, btw.)
- After this game, the Def.Rtg. = 98.0 — #5 in the NBA.

- Note: Brad Stevens has to get credit for the Celtics' excellent defense. Not only did he set it all up, he also watches over it with eagle eyes — often generating key defensive adjustments as needed on the fly. Make no mistake: this is Stevens' D, from A to Z.
- [Golden State has the league's current best Def.Rtg. @ 95.0; the Pelicans' D is at the bottom @ 112.2. League average = 103.6.]

- The Cs' overall Offensive Rating for this season now stands at 101.2 pts/100-possessions — #21 in the league. It took a big hit from this Pacers game. (They were at #15 coming into it.)  
- [OKC currently leads the league in Off.Rtg. @ 112.5; MEM is at the bottom with 95.7. League average = 103.6.]

And how are they trending?
- Hard to tell now. Obviously, the Pacers game sets them back significantly in the stats. But it was a strange, ref-ruined affair, and its true impact is difficult to gauge. One thing we do know is this: to really succeed in this league, to be elite — a team must be able to rely on its offense too. The Cs do not have anything close to an elite offense right now. And they are unlikely to get there without a move or two.

- Boston's defense remains excellent, notwithstanding its mediocre performance vs. Pacers. They're still averaging an excellent 98 Def.Rtg, 5th best in the NBA.

- Isaiah's results as a starter are dramatically worse than they were when he came off the bench. It may be that he's simply better suited for the 2nd unit — which could be a function of his height, his style of play, or any number of factors we can't know for sure. In any case, the numbers are stark:
In this season's first 3 games, Thomas came off the bench and generated these stats:
  • 22.3 points/game
  • 28.7 points/36-minutes (near league best)
  • eFG%= 42.5% (Effective Field Goal% – accounts for 3pt shots in addition to 2-pointers)
  • TS%= 52.7% (True Shooting% – accounts for 3pt shots and FTs).
  • – All good to great numbers.
In the Cs' last 3 games, with Thomas starting, here are his results:
  • 16.7 points/game
  • 18.75 points/36-minutes
  • eFG%= 34.3%
  • TS%= 43.7%. 
  • – IT's scoring is WAY down from his days with the 2nd unit, and his eFG% and TS% are terrible now. SERIOUSLY BAD. With those numbers, it would not be unreasonable to say that Isaiah is hurting his team every time he tries to score. That's just crazy.
  • – Conclusion: sample sizes are small, so conclusions must be tempered accordingly. But the logic of the results in hand is very clear: Put Thomas back with the 2nd unit. 
  • – I think even Isaiah himself must be wishing madly to go back to his beloved 2nd unit now!

- The Celtics still lead the league in Defensive TOV% (Opponent Turnover Percentage) (17.5%) — and in steals per game (11.4).
  • This could be a (partial) explanation for why the Cs often start games slowly: The confusion and demoralization that can happen as a result of the TOs they force take time to develop.
  •  Jae Crowder still leads the league in steals (3.43 per game, 4.1 per 36 minutes). He even had 5 of em vs. Pacers. (Too bad the magic couldn't spread to the rest of the team.)

- We now need to see the Cs in action a couple more times to determine if the apparent turning point of the Nov 6 WASH game was real, or not. But whatever happens, the need for a boost on the offensive side is clear; always has been. I'm pretty sure DA's known this for a while now. Keep workin' those phones, Danny!

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: Jamie Rhodes, USA TODAY Sports

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