Green Stats: Celtics blow away the Thunder with AWESOME defense / Analysis

Sunday's soiree with OKC saw the Cs' newly-designated 'elite' defense more than hold its own against one of the league's best offenses. Also — Marcus Smart went nuts, scoring 26% of his team's points. Cs won 100-85, a surprisingly wide margin of victory in a contest that was hard-fought through 3+ quarters.

After slow-starting every game this season, the Cs took only a couple minutes to reach full throttle in this one. The Green played patiently through a see-saw 36 minutes, then pulled away in a terrific 4th quarter in which Russell Westbrook just couldn't stop chucking up brick after brick, leading his team to an L despite the benefit of phantom foul calls on almost every drive. But make no mistake: the Celtics' D won this game.


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. OKC – Nov 15 2015:

Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 105.8 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to #9 in the NBA this season (and #13 last season). I.e., the Cs' O performed somewhat better than they've averaged this season so far.
  • Thunder had the NBA's #15 defense last season. Prior to this game, OKC's D was rated #14 in the league (DefRtg = 102.8). The Cs' offense made the Thunder's defense play like #20 in the NBA.

Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 90.0 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #1 defense this season (#1 last season too, by far).
  • OKC's offense last season averaged 107.8 pts/100 possessions, #10 in the NBA. Coming into this game, their offense was rated #2 (!!) in the league (111.4 Off.Rtg.). What happened? The Cs' defense happened. They held OKC's vaunted O to a performance worse than the worst team in the NBA!
  • The Celtics are proving in game after game that their D is indeed elite. This game is now exhibit 1 in that argument. A great defensive performance by the Green.

Pace: Each team had 94 possessions – slower than the Celtics' and league averages. Cs now average 98.8 possessions/game, ~7th in the league. The league average is currently 97.0 (dropping steadily closer to last year's 93.9).

Refs: Grade: C. Observations: There were a total of 6 egregiously bad calls in this game, all going against the Cs. David Jones had 2,  Lauren Holtkamp had at least 1, Zach Zarba had at least 1, and there was 1 for the crew. None of these refs seemed to have a clear understanding of the NBA's rule of verticality. Note: Westbrook's many phantom foul calls are not counted here.


Where do the Cs stand now?

Not average. Quintessential.
  • Before this game, the Celtics' Defensive Rating was #4 in the league, at 97.9 pts allowed/100-possessions. (That would have easily been #1 last season, btw.)
  • After this game, Def.Rtg. = 97.2#4 in the NBA.
  • The Cs' defense is not just 4th best in the league (i.e., elite) — it has outperformed its expectations in 6 of 9 games this season, and in 5 of those games (including the OKC tilt), the D performed at rates better than the league's best mark for the season to date. Bottom line: The Cs' defense is not just working great, it's also getting better.
  • [The Spurs have the league's best Def.Rtg. right now @ 96.1, while the Pelicans' D is at the bottom @ 111.6. League average = 103.6. 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 102.8 pts/100-possessions — ~#17 in the league. (Prior to the game, it was 102.3: #18.)
  • The offense so far this season has not shown a clear trend: it's neither improving nor deteriorating — not in any clear way, not yet anyway. It has sometimes outperformed its expectations (MIL, ATL), other times underperformed (TOR, IND). It did well vs. OKC, but that's just one game. We'll keep watching to see if a clear trend emerges, in either direction. 
  • [Golden State leads the league in Off.Rtg. @ 114.2; MEM 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 Net Rating (OffRtg minus DefRtg) — a measure of how many more (or fewer) points the Cs score than their opponents, on average — is 5.6 pts per 100 possessions, #6 in the NBA. Note:  This stat is the single best one for measuring overall team performance. If the Cs are #6 in Net Rating, then they're probably the ~#6 best team in the league right now, overall.
  • The numbers say that the defense is definitely elite AND trending upward, and that the offense is mediocre AND showing no clear trend one way or the other. (Of course, the O was good in this OKC game, which could be the beginning of an upward trend; we'll have to wait to find out.)
  • The Cs' overall trend is positive — which makes sense for a team with mediocre offense and an elite, improving defense. 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. For each game, we generate an "Offensive OAR" and a "Defensive OAR." We then look at the season's trends for both these stats, as well as the Cs' "NetOAR" for each game and the running season's average for NetOAR. (NetOAR is derived by subtracting DefOAR from OffOAR, just like standard Net Ratings.)
  • The exact formulas for calculating all Opponent Adjusted Ratings will be presented in a separate post, coming very soon. (This will be a Green Stats special for all the hardcore statheads out there!)


Quick Notes:

  • Marcus Smart not only scored 26 points (a personal record) on 9-14 shooting, he also controlled Westbrook through most of the game (RW shot 5-20 overall, 2-10 on 3-pointers), and was extremely active in every aspect of the contest. Oklahoma seems to bring it out in the kid.
  • It was embarrassing to see the refs make at least two clear errors in calling fouls despite clear, perfect verticality by the Celtics. There's a rule about that in the NBA; — these refs appear to need a refresher course.
  • Another note to the refs: Just because Westbrook drives does NOT mean he will be fouled. You need to call what you see – not what you think the player deserves, or what your imagination tells you must have been there.
  • Celtics: Please hit your free throws. 65% won't cut it most nights.
  • Best game of the season so far for the Green! The defense in particular was AWESOME — holding the #2 offense in the league (!) to a scoring rate equivalent to much worse than the worst offensive team in the NBA!! Rebounding was also pretty awesome, considering OKC is one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA. Cs just wanted this one!
  • See y'all in Houston.

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.

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