Nets beat Celts with help from refs / Stunning details + Green Stats analysis

Boston's offense was able to generate a respectable Offensive Rating in Sunday's game in Brooklyn, despite the amazing machinations of a trio of refs patently determined to control the outcome of the game. The Celtics' defense, however, could not withstand the 8v5 attack, and ended up with an abysmally poor Defensive Rating for the game — equivalent to the worst defense in the league — despite the Cs' status as the 2nd-best D in the NBA coming into the game (with some authorities listing BOS as #1).

If you didn't know, could you guess which amazingly potent offense did this to the Celtics' league-leading excellent D? Would you believe it was the Nets' #29-rated offense? Make sense? Is there a reasonable explanation? Only one.

Here's what the Cs did in Sunday's Nets game, plus details on the refs, and the Celts' overall status after the game....


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. BKN – Nov 22 2015:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 107.8 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to #4 in the NBA this season. This is the 6th game in a row in which the Cs' O has outperformed both their season record and expectations based on opponent strength. That puts the offense now in the middle of a confirmed upward move.
  • Prior to this game, BKN's defense was rated #28 in the league (DefRtg = 108.3) — bad. Versus the Cs, BKN's numbers indicate that they played like the #26 defense in the league.
  • Note: In a referee-manipulated game like this one, these numbers have limited meaning.

Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 118.4 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #30 defense this season (and any season). The Cs' D 'mysteriously' disappeared in this game, say the numbers. The 2nd-best defense in the land just up and died, the story goes, performing worse than the worst defense in the NBA. How can this be?? Answer: It can be when the officials decide it will be. And that's what they did. The proof is in the details (below: see 'Refs').
  • Coming into this game, the Nets' offense was rated #29 in the league (99.0 Off.Rtg.). Somehow, the Nets' usually-terrible offense managed to perform like the #1 team in the NBA. Hmmm.
  • Note: In a referee-manipulated game like this one, these numbers have limited meaning.

Pace: Each team had 94 possessions – lower than the Celtics' average of 99 prior to the game, and lower than the league average of ~96.5. [Cs now average 98.6 possessions/game, ~6th in the league.]

Refs: Grade: F-. Observations: There were countless egregiously bad calls in this game, and they came in a pattern that can only be interpreted as willful. For whatever reason, the refs were determined that BKN would win this game, and blatantly called the game accordingly. The first quarter passed without incident: the calm before the storm. And then came the second quarter, when all three referees began making incomprehensible calls, the nature and sequence of which are detailed below — all leading inexorably to the conclusion that this game was entirely manipulated by the officials.
  • 8:39 QUARTER 2: The refs' onslaught began with a meaningless ticky-tack foul call on Kelly Olynyk by referee David Guthrie (#16), as Shane Larkin dribbled into his body on the left baseline. No one could have known that that would be the beginning of one of the most blatant, odious displays of referee bias as we've ever witnessed. (Note: For some reason, KO attracts bad foul calls like a magnet. Not so much in this game — because everybody got bad calls in this one — but generally.)
  • 8:11: David Lee drives through the left block and jumps to the rim for the easy score. He is met by two Nets defenders, A.Bargnani and T.Robinson, EACH of whom badly fouls him on a different arm, causing him to miss. This was an extremely obvious, perfectly visualized, egregious foul — an easy call for any kiddie league ref — but no whistle was heard. At this point, suspicion began to grow that maybe something special was brewing in Brooklyn....
  • 8:02: 9 seconds after failing to call a foul for Lee's mugging, a foul is called on Evan Turner for lightly touching Joe Johnson's arm as he drives in. This is interesting because it highlights the double-standard of the referees at this point of the game. Any light touch BY the Cs is called, while massive fouls ON the Cs are ignored.
  • 7:51: Offensive foul is called by referee Kevin Cutler (#34) on Jonas Jerebko as he cuts to the rim and Karasev gets in his way. This was a ticky tack no-call that nevertheless gets whistled from time to time in the league: no big deal. But it caused a turnover, and it came at the beginning of what ultimately became a MASSIVE UPENDING of the rules of basketball by a crew of referees bent on rigging the system. And Kevin Cutler was the worst offender overall.
  • It's important to note the sequence of events between 8:39 and 7:51 of the 2nd quarter, and then later from 3:48 to 0:00 in the same period. Obvious, violent, massive fouls committed by the Nets on the Celtics were ignored, while many nonsensical — and some completely non-existent — fouls were whistled on the other end, by all three refs.
  • 3:48: Referee James Capers (#19) joins the party by calling on offensive foul on Sullinger after he was surrounded by Robinson and Karasev, and, with both hands firmly on the ball, moved back and forth to try to find daylight. A "hook" foul was impossible, because both of Sully's hands remained on the ball at all times. This was a "phantom" foul call — it never happened. (One of many...)
  • 3:22: Sullinger is massively and very obviously fouled by Robinson on a drive to the rim + shot. No call. This one was so clear, it was extra hard to believe the no-call. But by now, what was happening in the game was coming into focus. The refs appeared determined to stick it to the Celtics. The fix was in: Cs must lose. And there was nothing the Green could do about it.
  • 1:44: Finally, a foul is called on the Nets (by Capers), for hammering Isaiah Thomas on a drive to the rim. Note that the Nets were ahead by 18 points at this point. (Every ref knows that you have to call SOME fouls for the side you're screwing over — this crew made sure the lead was huge before they bothered to do that.)
  • 1:32: Cutler (reminder: the worst offender) whistled a defensive foul on Jae Crowder when he stole the ball from Joe Johnson. Replay showed a very clean steal, with no contact. This was a super-egregious bad call, because it was 100% invented by the worst referee on the floor.
  • 0:43: A LEADING CONTENDER FOR WORST CALL OF THE NIGHT — Isaiah Thomas dribbles the ball up the court from the Cs' side out after a made basket. As he's dribbling, he momentarily stops and changes direction. There is no Nets player in his path. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Nets' #24, runs up behind Thomas, and because IT stopped for a moment, ended up tripping all over Isaiah, causing them both to fall to the floor. Unbelievably, the call – by Guthrie this time – was an OFFENSIVE foul on Thomas. This one was a total head-scratcher. There is no understanding this call, no matter how many times you review it. The only reasonable conclusion is: Just one more bogus call by a crew bent on manipulating the outcome of the game.
  • 0:02 - 0:03: As the period ends, Thomas drives and jumps for a layup at the rim. He is clearly fouled in the air — no call. This is a call IT always gets. Not this time.
  • 8:35 QUARTER 3: Kevin Cutler (again) whistles a defensive foul on Isaiah when Hollis-Jefferson backs into IT. This would have been a semi-understandable judgment call but for the fact that NO CONTACT occurred because IT backed away from the play with a "chair-pull"-like maneuver followed by a flop to the floor. You could have called a flop on IT. But you COULD NOT call a foul, since there was no contact. But they called it anyway. As we know by now: Cutler was the worst offender in the game.
  • Between 6:00 and 7:59: Two very weak fouls were called on Evan Turner.
  • 8:21 QUARTER 4: Brook Lopez runs into Olynyk and they both fall. Foul on: KO, of course (improperly called by David Guthrie).
  • 7:15: Referee James Capers whistles a foul on Thomas when Jared Jack tries to jump into him in the act of shooting. Jack's intention was clearly to draw a foul call. Problem was: Jack did not actually succeed in jumping into Isaiah, because IT moved out of the way. Just one more phantom foul call, by the worst crew of referees you can imagine.
  • 6:26: Thaddeus Young tries to steal the ball from Jerebko, but ends up kicking the ball in the process. A kicked-ball call should have been made at that point, stopping the action and returning possession to the Celtics. There was no whistle. (Note: Cs got the ball right back via TO, but that does not excuse the missed call.)
  • 1:41: The SECOND LEADING CONTENDER FOR WORST CALL OF THE NIGHT — With the Celtics down by only 7, Crowder takes and makes a three from the left corner. Kevin Cutler, the Cs' old friend, sees fit to call an OFFENSIVE FOUL ON CROWDER because Jae's feet did not land directly under his shoulders: one leg was slightly ahead of the other. The defender happened to hit that front leg — which led to the offensive foul call. THAT IS NOT THE RULE AND NOT THE INTENTION OF THE RULE in question. And Cutler knows this very well. Had this one call been handled correctly, the Cs would have been just 4 points behind with plenty of time left.

It should be noted that the Nets played well in this game. They came out fighting from tip-off, while the Cs took a few minutes to get going, in the first quarter. And the Nets made shots, to their credit. But the very large number of bogus referee calls — the list here doesn't include every bad whistle, only the most egregious ones; there were other borderline calls in this game, and ALL of them went against Boston — makes it clear that the score would certainly have been different had the referees been honest/correct.

We can't know how the score would have been different — but the sheer volume of bad calls makes it very likely that the Celtics would have won with anything approaching reasonable, fair officiating. Adding to the argument is the ridiculous Defensive Rating that the Cs earned in this contest: 118.4worse than the worst team in the league currently averages. It's difficult to believe that the #2 best defense in the league (prior to this game) would suddenly lose all its talent and perform so poorly on that end of the floor, without external manipulation.

When the weight of evidence is this great, we cannot avoid the obvious conclusion.

Oh no! No way! You CRAY CRAY....

Where do the Cs stand now?


  • Celts' pre-game Def.Rtg. was 97.6 (pts allowed/100-possessions) — #2 in the NBA on 11/21.
  • After the Nets game, the Cs' Def.Rtg. = 99.1 — ~#4 in the league (as of 11/22). This is a fairly big drop, caused by the extreme nature of the Cs' terrible Defensive Rating in Sunday's Nets game.
  • [The Spurs have the league's best Def.Rtg. right now @ 96.5, while the Bucks' D is at the bottom @ 112.5. League average = 103.9. Note: At this stage of the season, positions can change substantially every night.]

  • Right now, after the Nets game, the Cs' Offensive Rating = 105.2 (pts/100-possessions) — ~#9 in the league (as of 11/22). [Pre-game it was 104.9: #10.]
  • The offense has shown substantial (sometimes dramatic) improvement in the past 6 games, and this continued on Sunday (despite the officiating). Note: The Cs' offense is now well into the league's Top-10.
  • [Golden State leads the league in Off.Rtg. @ 114.2; PHI is at the bottom with 92.8. League average = 103.9. Note: At this stage of the season, positions can change substantially every night.]

  • After this game, BOS' Net Rating now = +6.0, #4 in the NBA (as of 11/22) — down from +7.3 (#3). Note: Since this stat is the single best one for measuring overall team performance, we can conclude that the Celtics are now statistically the 4th best team in the NBA. Ahead of them are the Warriors (+14.4), Spurs (+9.3) and Cavs (+7.6).
  • [Stat Note: 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 (thus eliminating any effect of pace). It's derived by subtracting the Defensive Rating ("DefRtg") from the Offensive Rating ("OffRtg").]
  • The numbers say that the defense is elite (4th best in NBA) AND generally still improving (though the 11/22 Nets game is a substantially negative data point), while the offense is still in the middle of a definite move upward, currently rated ~9th best in the league (as of 11/22).
  • The OARs (Opponent-Adjusted Ratings) indicate that both O and D are still positive and improving (though the defense is less positive than it was before Sunday's big negative data point).



  • The Cs started this game with somewhat less energy and urgency than usual — understandable, as this was a classic trap game after they beat BKN so convincingly just a couple days ago. But the Cs picked it up a few minutes into the first period, and fought hard the rest of the way.
  • There's not much to be gleaned from the numbers from this game, due to the outsize influence of the referees on the results. In particular, the ridiculously outlying number for Defensive Rating (118.4: worst in the league) should be taken with many grains of salt. The Cs worked hard on D through most of this game, but were thwarted by the refs.
  • But this is the state of the NBA today. Despite some improvements at the margins since Silver took over, the officiating in the league is still pretty rotten. Every team in the league must deal with games like this, from time to time. (Well, maybe not quite so nutty.) Therefore, it seems likely that every team's average Efficiency Ratings are burdened with outlier games similar to the one the Cs just suffered through — or eventually will be. I.e., good teams have to overcome the occasional mendacity of the refs. It's unavoidable — that's the state of the league these days (still), and everyone has to deal with it.
  • So when we look at the Cs' current status, and we see that they still have the NBA's 4th-best Net Rating, 4th-best defense and #9 offense — even after Sunday's game — we can agree that they're doing pretty well, for now. And the Cs' status is probably better than it looks: The negative statistical impact of 11/22's Nets game is (much) bigger right now than it would usually be, and bigger than it will be very soon; — that's because it comes when there have only been 13 games played to date. When we have 30 or 40 games done, that negative statistical impact will be diluted down to something quite small. For this reason, we can expect the Cs' Defensive Rating to climb right back up soon, and probably quickly re-approach the top 2 or 3 positions in the league. Meanwhile, the offense continues to improve, and did so even in Sunday's debacle in Brooklyn.
  • We've seen before how the Celtics tend to lose when the officiating is bad — the Mavs game comes to mind, and there have been others. There's a very good reason for that: the Cs are a defense-first team, which makes them particularly susceptible to bad officiating, because refs tend to stymie defenses far more than offenses. (They call many more defensive fouls than offensive.)
And what about...
  • You might be wondering if this is any way to run a pro sports league. Are there no rules, no overseeing body to prevent NBA officials from running amok as they just did in Brooklyn? Well — it's complicated. No, it's certainly not a reasonable way to run a league, pro or otherwise. The kind of refereeing we witnessed on 11/22 should NEVER be tolerated. But the Celtics, of course, can't do anything about it. (And they probably wouldn't want to, what with all the $$$ involved.) There's a fine waiting for any team-associated person who says a negative word about the refs. But we fans can do something: we can talk about it. And write about it. Loudly and openly. Keep talking and writing until it changes.
  • And what about laws? Is there a law against what Cutler, Guthrie and Capers did? There's no specific law that we know of. But there are laws regarding fraud. When a pro sports league promises fair officiating but gives the paying public travesties like we witnessed on Sunday — it could be argued that that is fraud. And it wouldn't bother me one bit if someone someday did something about it, in court. (But no, don't hold your breath.)

P.S. uses different formulas for calculating possessions and Ratings, and may therefore have somewhat different values and team positions in their tables. We use the more-standard formulas that most independent sites use, because we think they're more accurate. But where you look makes little real difference in the end. The relative positioning of teams should not vary very much from one site to another (unless the numbers involved happen to be tightly bunched for a few teams).

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: Misc:

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

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Follow DRJ on Twitter @DRJ_CsNStats