Green Stats: Tough loss, rotten game - Celtics v Mavs game analysis

The Celtics lost a tough home game to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night, in a troubled contest marred by some awful officiating for both teams. In the end, the usually reliable and redoubtable Isaiah Thomas had a chance to tie the game with plenty of time left on the clock — and single-handedly kicked the ball away to a turnover. (Bad things do happen, even to the best of us.)

It is clearly true that the Cs had plenty of chances to win this one, and failed to get the job done. It is also true that the referees directly (and with some apparent purpose) ended the Celtics' crushing rout of the Mavs in the first half (2nd quarter), and thereby changed the complexion of this game (and possibly the outcome, we can't know).

The effect that even short-lived biased officiating can have on a team is not all obvious. Even a great team can lose heart — and if it's not heart that's lost, then certainly urgency and focus are — when their clear dominance over an opponent is interrupted and then reversed by repeated and obvious referee "errors." It's possible the NBA thinks it's more important to have close, competitive games — which help TV ratings — than it is to call games fairly 48 out of every 48 minutes. I believe most fans would strongly disagree with that point of view.

We'll look into some of the details, below. Meanwhile....


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. DAL – Nov 18 2015:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 105.3 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to #10 in the NBA this season (#16 last season). This is the 4th game in a row in which the Cs' O has outperformed their season record. That's a good thing.
  • Prior to this game, DAL's defense was rated #13 in the league (DefRtg = 102.3) — pretty decent. The Cs made the Mavs' D look like the #19 defense in the league. So: 'pretty good' offense by the Celts in this one.

Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 109.4 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #29 defense this season (#28 last season). Yuck.
  • Coming into this game, the Mavs' offense was rated #20 in the league (100.9 Off.Rtg.).
  • How did the #20 Dallas offense perform in this game, after all the results are counted? The numbers make the Mavs' offensive performance equivalent to the #3 offense in the league right now. When you let a 20th-ranked offense perform like a #3 — you've screwed up. The results say the Cs' defense sucked in this one — despite the evidence of our eyes, which saw the Cs put forward their usual high-energy defensive effort. They were, however, thwarted at key moments.

Pace: Each team had 97 possessions – a little slower than the Celtics' average, about equal to league average. [Cs now average 98.9 possessions/game, ~6th in the league. League average is currently 96.8 (dropping steadily closer to last year's 93.9).]

Refs: Grade: D. Observations: There were 5 specific egregiously bad calls in this game, and many other relatively minor ones. Both teams got the shaft at various times.
  • In the 2nd quarter, Tony Brown (#6) failed to call a clear mugging of David Lee under the DAL rim, then followed that up with a whistle ON Lee for the tiniest contact while fighting for a rebound. (Combined we call that one egregious ref error.)
  • Later in the 2nd quarter, there were multiple, repeated questionable calls by Brown, and others, against the Celts — which made it possible for the Mavs to avoid a total rout in the first half.
  • Lastly in the 2nd quarter, the crew called a foul on Dallas as Jae Crowder drove to the rim, and replay showed it should have been a jump ball (which was the initial call by one of the refs, actually).
  • Ben Taylor (#46) had an itchy whistle trigger all game long. He also committed an egregious error in the 3rd quarter by calling a traveling violation on Evan Turner while ET was fighting for the ball with a defender. Ben: a player can't travel when he's fighting for possession. OK?
  • Also in quarter 3, Tony Brothers (#25) whistled a terrible foul call on Olynyk who had jumped STRAIGHT UP (per replays). It does seem like most refs do not understand the NBA's rule of verticality. Looks like even Brothers needs a refresher course. 
  • Finally in the 3rd quarter, Tony Brown stepped in it again when he called a foul on JJ Barea for supposedly fouling Isaiah on a drive. Didn't happen (per replay).
Obviously, the officiating was terrible, overall. But we should focus most on the second quarter, when the Celtics were running away with the game after an extended defensive+offensive run. They were up 16-18 points and looked poised to completely blow away the Mavs. That's when the refs stepped in and, with bad call after bad call after bad call, stopped Boston's run and allowed Dallas to finish the half in decent shape — down 9 points instead of (probably closer to) 25 or 30 — and with their confidence reasonably intact.

It is not the refs' job to keep games competitive, as they did in the first half of this one. And giving the disadvantaged team "make-up" calls afterwards is not only silly and childish — it doesn't work, at all. All it does is disgust BOTH teams' fan bases. Look, this is a game of rhythm and runs. You cannot control it like a sock puppet. You shouldn't be trying to control it at all! When you do, refs — you're cheating us all.

Personally, I don't want referees helping my team, and I (certainly) don't want them hurting it. I believe fans want/demand fair, unbiased officiating through 48 minutes of every game. That's what we pay for. When any NBA referee fails to meet that standard — by, for example, bending the truth in order to make a game more competitive — he/she should be at least reprimanded, if not retrained and/or shipped elsewhere.

And if perchance the NBA is actually instructing its referees to keep games competitive — well — then that would be outright fraud, wouldn't it.
Even great players have tough days


Where do the Cs stand now?


  • Before this game, the Celtics' Defensive Rating had climbed overnight to #2 in the league (as some top teams fell), at 96.8 pts allowed/100-possessions.
  • After this game, Def.Rtg. = 97.9#4 in the NBA. Cs dropped two spots as a result of this game.
  • [The Spurs have the league's best Def.Rtg. right now @ 94.9, while the Pelicans' D is at the bottom @ 112.3. 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 103.6 pts/100-possessions — ~#14 in the league. [Prior to the game, it was 103.5: #14.]
  • The offense has shown improvement in the past four games, so it seems like the Cs are making a real move to raise the O now. Of course, that wasn't enough to win this one, but then this loss was more on the D anyway (and some other things).
  • [Golden State leads the league in Off.Rtg. @ 113.3; PHI is at the bottom with 93.6. League average = 103.6. Note: At this early stage of the season, positions can change substantially every night.]

  • The team's season Net Rating is now +5.7, #4 in the NBA. Note: This stat is the single best one in existence for measuring overall team performance. If the Cs are #4 in Net Rating, then they probably are the ~4th best team in the league right now, overall.
  • [Net Rating (aka "Net Efficiency Rating") is a measure of how many more (or fewer) points the Cs scored than their opponents, per 100 possessions. It's derived by subtracting the Defensive Rating ("DefRtg") from the Offensive Rating ("OffRtg"). It is not the same as the simple per-game scoring differential; it's better, actually — better linked to real-world results, because the effects of differences of pace, on the numbers, are eliminated.]
  • The Celtics briefly reached #3 in the league in Net Rating on November 18 (with their previous mark of +6.7). Then the Mavs game dropped them back to #4. FOURTH BEST TEAM IN THE NBA — that ain't chopped liver.
  • The numbers say that the defense is definitely elite AND still trending upward — though the Mavs game makes that trend somewhat less marked. Meanwhile, the offense is showing clear signs of upward movement now, including the DAL game. We'll keep following to see if this continues, and where it leads.
  • FYI: As promised, we'll be posting the formulas for the new stat, "Opponent Adjusted Rating" ("OAR"), within the next 2-3 days. (OARs adjust each game's Offensive and Defensive Rating to account for opponent strength.)


Quick Notes:

  • Cs suffered from a lot of bad luck in this one, on top of all their other troubles. I lost count of how many bunnies rolled around the rim and fell off rather than in. And then IT's turnover — at the WORST possible moment. And on and on. Sure, these things are not really about luck because after all, people make them happen. The bad luck applies to the timing, most of all. Shots will miss, always. TOs will happen, always. When they happen at the most critical moments of a game — that's some bad luck.
  • That Barea can play ball. And Dirk is still amazing, for sure. Sully (who had a dubl-dubl) and Bradley were terrific in this one.
  • A lotta folks have been saying that Marcus Smart doesn't have to score to help his team win. Well -- no. If you're shooting 0-6 (HOU) and 1-7 (DAL), with 0-8 on 3pt attempts (combined, both games) — you're hurting your team on offense, regardless of all the other good things you do on the court. Smart's eFG% is 38.6% — a very bad mark that's #341 of 417 active NBA players. His TS% = 43.9%, and his 3pt accuracy is a horrendous 23.7%. Those are some bad numbers, and they hurt. So... gotta know your limitations in life. Marcus will have to cut back on his scoring attempts if he's going to continue shooting this way.
  • Btw, Amir Johnson leads the team in shooting accuracy with eFG% = 59% — ~#28 in the league among qualified players. Bradley and Sully are both at ~50%, and Isaiah's at ~48% (but IT gets to the line better than most, which brings his overall scoring substantially up).
  • Tough game. As with ALL their losses so far this season, the Celts were in it to the end. (So there's that, anyway.)
  • All in all, the Cs are still doing very well. D is elite, O is improving, and overall: they're statistically the 4th best team in the league. And they're fighting for every game. We can expect good things from this group going forward — despite this (forgettable) loss to the (mostly mediocre) Dallas club.

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

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