A glimmer of greatness at the Garden / Celts outshine Suns 117-103 / Green Stats

Deciphering the Celtics

The Boston Celtics put on a basketball master class in the first half of Friday's TD Garden game vs. the Suns. And that's the second time that's happened in as many games now.

I.e., the Celts have played one whole super-elite-level ballgame over their last two contests. Interesting, eh? If only we could excise second halves.

There is some actual good news in all this though. Really.

First — here are details on the game, and where the club stands now...


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Phoenix Suns – Jan 15 2016:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 113.4 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #2 offense in the NBA this season. The final numbers look good. Some of the (latter) parts that comprise it... not so much.
  • In the first half, the Cs' Offensive Rating was 125.5 — the equivalent of best in the league by far.
  • The Cs have been having some bad 3rd quarters lately, and this contest went along that same path. The Celts' Offensive Rating in the 3rd quarter was 102.8, equivalent to #26 in the NBA. Ah, but then came the final frame....
  • In the 4th, the Cs' Offensive Rating fell off a cliff, ending at 97.7 for the quarter — equivalent to #29 in the NBA (ahead of only Philly).
  • Prior to this game, PHX's defense was rated #23 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 107.6) — weak. And they've been weaker still in their last 10-15 games (after losing Bledsoe for the season).
  • Versus the Cs, for the whole game, PHX's D performed like the #30 defense in the league (Def.Rtg. = 113.4) — much worse than PHX's season average.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 99.8 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #2 defense this season. Great D once again, overall. But the picture is a lot less sanguine when we look at quarters and halves.
  • The Cs' defense in the first half was amazingly good, with a Def.Rtg. of 86.4 — a great number.
  • In the 3rd quarter, the Defensive Rating fell off its own cliff — to 113.8, equivalent to #30 in the NBA. And the 4th quarter was even worse: down to 116.3.
  • Coming into this game, the Suns' offense was rated #24 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 103.6) — weak. And even weaker in their recent games.
  • The Cs' D held PHX's O to a level equivalent to the league's #29 offense (Off.Rtg. = 99.8) — an excellent showing. But it was a lot more excellent in the first half.
Pace: Each team had 103 possessions – faster than the Cs' season average (98.2 – #4 in NBA). League average = 95.6/game.

Referees: Grade: C-. Observations: There were no major, obviously-egregious calls noted. But refs Brian Forte (#45), Gediminas Petraitis (#50) and James Williams (#60) were extremely inconsistent — calling the tiniest touches as fouls early on, then veering into a laisez faire approach that saw multiple violent fouls in the latter periods go unwhistled.
  • At ~10:06 of the 1st quarter, referee James Williams (#60) called a foul on Booker as he was guarding Bradley. Replay showed no contact.
  • Two quick fouls followed, at ~9:48 and ~8:58 of the first quarter, first on Amir then on Sully. Both were weird, with minimal contact.
  • These nonsense calls were followed, later on, by some hard hitting that went completely uncalled.
  • So this was a game in which no one could know from one moment to the next how contact would be treated by the refs. That's part of the definition of bad officiating.

Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Suns game...
  • Offensive Rating = 104.2 — ~#19 in NBA. (Range: #15–#21 in a very tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 100.7 — #2 in NBA.
  • Net Rating = +3.4 — #7 in NBA. (Up from +3.1, #8.)
A full analysis of the Celtics' recent situation appears here. The Suns game brings the Cs' Offensive Opponent-Adjusted Ratings up, so that the trend of the offense is now positive for the season and (more markedly) for their last 10 games:

  • The positive trend line of the Offensive OARs is a key component of the Cs' projected future this season. Boston's defense is hovering at 2nd to 3rd best in the league. Not a problem. The offense is at #19. Problem.
  • If the Celts can get their offense into the NBA's top-10 — they become instant contenders. With their current roster.
  • So long as the offense is improving, it's all possible.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • The other day, we wrote that the Cs don't seem to be able to maintain elite-level O and D consistently through each game. Absent an infusion of new talent, they have to choose one or the other most of the time. On Friday, the Celtics troupe played out that exact scenario for our viewing pleasure/distress, by bifurcating the game. But....
  • But we got a glimpse of greatness in the Suns game, too. For a whole half, the Cs showed that they are indeed capable of elite-level basketball at both ends of the court, simultaneously. And they did that very thing in the first half of Wednesday's game too, versus the Pacers.
  • Now, the dropoff in the Suns game can be explained as resulting from the overwhelming lead the Celtics amassed in the first half. It's only natural to take one's foot off the gas when one is so far ahead (21-point halftime lead).
  • So we're left with the big, as-yet Unanswered Question: Can this team sustain the elite play they displayed in their last two first-halves — throughout a single game? And can they do that consistently?
  • The answer so far has been: No, they can't. But we don't know that for sure. All our analysis and understanding come from the past. We study what's happened so far, and do our best to extrapolate into the future. But the thing about the future is that it often goes in unexpected directions. So it's possible that the Celtics could get their Off/Def act together enough to sustain excellence on both ends of the court through 48 minutes. There is nothing written in stone that says they can't — not yet anyway.
  • Put another way — the Cs are making progress. Their offense is actually IMPROVING now, statistically — both over the whole season-to-date and their last 10 games (see graphs above). If this continues, and the defense doesn't suffer too much as a result — anything is still possible.
Umm... Why?
  • Yes, the Suns are not a good team. But the Pacers are. And hope abides in Beantown.
  • Btw — congrats to Marcus Smart on his first NBA triple-double! Off the bench, no less. Many happy returns, Cobra.  (But why are you guarding centers and power forwards all of a sudden? Huh??)
  • The Wizards are next, tomorrow in DC. We should get more data and more answers then.

Green Stats runs after Celtics games, right here, usually within ~ 1 to 20 hours of the final horn. Note: Some posts will be (much) longer than others, and some games may be skipped altogether.
Efficiency ratings source for comps: Basketball-reference.com. Misc: RealGM.com. (Note: Our formulas for pace and efficiency ratings are similar to those used by these sites, and most others — just a tad more accurate because we don't ignore team turnovers. NBA.com's numbers will differ, as they use different formulas.)

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

Photo: Brian Babineau/Getty

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