After failed experiments at MEM and NYK, Celtics return to form vs. Pacers / Green Stats analysis

The stats tell a story about the Celtics' last three games that can be best understood this way:
  • The coaches knew that the offense has been holding the team back (as opposed to the defense, which has been excellent).
  • So the team decided to focus intensely on offense, to see what happens. And they had a particularly good practice session just prior to the Memphis game, according to Brad Stevens.

  • In the Memphis contest, the Cs' offense did quite well, but the results of the game — Boston lost 101-98 — were marred by some unusually poor officiating.
    • How poor? We counted 11 egregious referee errors plus 7 less-severe ones. That's a record for the season.(Refs' Grade: F.)
    • Note: The pattern of calls was not consistent with purposeful manipulation — like we saw, for example, in the Nov. 22 Nets game. (Remember this guy?) It seemed, rather, to be about simple incompetence on the part of the refs. Just a terrible job. (This is not the first time Ed Malloy has screwed up. He might just be the worst remaining referee in the NBA right now.)
  • The Celtics' defense in the Memphis game performed very well in the first half (Def.Rtg. = 80.8 – ~NBA best), but appeared to fall apart in the second (2nd-half Def.Rtg. = 121.5 – ~NBA worst). Some of that was due to the many referee errors, but a significant part of it was not. The Cs just couldn't keep MEM out of the paint in the 2nd half, and they paid the price.
  • Overall, BOS' Offensive Rating for the game was 107.0, equivalent to ~#7 in the NBA, while their Defensive Rating was 110.3, equivalent to #30 in the league.
  • Contributing to the Memphis L: Boston also turned the ball over at the worst moments, and missed several layups they should've made (ahem, David Lee).

  • In New York, the Cs' experimental focus on offense came to a head. That game was ALL ABOUT offense — hardly anyone successfully defended anyone. It was a slugfest.
  • Both BOS and NYK ended with #1-level Offensive Ratings: BOS = 116.8, NYK = 122.9.
  • Both BOS and NYK had #30-level Defensive Ratings: BOS = 122.9, NYK = 116.8.
  • Melo went 7-10 overall, including 2-2 on threes. Porzingis went 3-9 on three, and 10-12 from everywhere else.
  • For the Cs, Isaiah went nuts with 34 points, and shot a respectable 11-23 — but went 1-8 on threes.
  • The Celtics showed they could score at an elite level. But the price was high: the price was the defense. Cs lost 120-114.
  • The game was reasonably well-officiated (Refs' Grade: B-.).

Isaiah Thomas
Mr. Unstoppable...
  • In the first half of their Wednesday home game versus Indiana, the Celtics played great basketball — scoring like a top-3 team (1st-half Off.Rtg. = 110.8) and defending like the best in the NBA (1st-half Def.Rtg. = 95.3).
  • Following their recent pattern, the 3rd quarter was disastrous for the Cs' offense (3rd-quarter Off.Rtg. = 79.4, equivalent to the worst in the NBA by far). The defense held up OK.
  • The decisive 4th quarter saw the Cs' offensive numbers pick up a bit — but only because the defense fed it several key easy baskets in the final minutes (4th-quarter Off.Rtg. = 100.5, ~#28 in league). It was the defense that won this game, clearly, with a 4th quarter stand (including 4 steals in the final 2:34) that led to a spectacular Defensive Rating of 72.3 for the frame — equivalent to the league's best by a mile — and the 103-94 final margin of victory.
  • Amir was a beast in this one, with 18 rebounds (8 offensive), 14 points on 6-11 shooting, 6 assists and 2 steals. Crowder was awesome too, with 25 points on 11-15 shooting (3-6 on threes) and a couple of key steals. Isaiah scored a game-high 28 points on 9-18 shooting, including 4-6 from deep. And pretty much everyone else not named Evan or Jonas did well.
  • The officiating was reasonably good. (Refs' Grade: B+.)

Bottom Line:

  • Upon returning home for the Pacers tilt, the Cs appeared to go back to their pre-road-trip pattern of great D and suspect O. We must keep in mind, though, that the Pacers have the NBA's #2 or #3 best defense. That musta had something to do with the Cs' statistical weakness on the offensive end.
  • In any case, the Celtics have clearly decided that they cannot forgo their identity in an effort to bolster the offense. Defense has historically come first for this team, and the Cs returned to those roots.


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Indiana Pacers – Jan 13 2016:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 100.5 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #28 offense in the NBA this season. Back to the way it was...
  • Prior to this game, IND's defense was rated #2 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 100.5) — excellent.
  • Versus the Cs, IND's D performed like the #2 defense in the league (Def.Rtg. = 100.5) — their season average.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 91.7 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #1 defense this season. Great work by the D saved this game.
  • Coming into this game, the Pacers' offense was rated #15 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 104.6) — mediocre.
  • The Cs' D held IND's O to a level equivalent to the league's #30 offense (Off.Rtg. = 91.7).
Pace: Each team had 102 possessions – faster than the Cs' season average (98.1 – #4 in NBA). League average = 95.5/game.

Referees – Pacers game: Grade: B+. Observations: There were no egregiously bad calls noted. But there were a couple of brutal no-calls that were hard to watch. (Poor Marcus "Pinata" Smart.)


Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Pacers game...
  • Offensive Rating = 104.0 — ~#20 in NBA.
  • Defensive Rating = 100.9 — #3 in NBA.
  • Net Rating = +3.1 — #8 in NBA.
A full analysis of the Celtics' situation (as of Jan 1) appeared here.
Updating that report:
  • The trend line of the Net OARs (Opponent-Adjusted Ratings) is still pointing way down, reflecting a decline of the Celts' overall performance. 

  • The slope of the full-season Offensive OARs' trend line is now flat — no longer negative, as it had been for a while. This indicates that the Cs' average offensive performance (relative to opponents' defensive strengths) has neither improved nor worsened across the season to date.

  • And the trend of the Offensive OARs for the last 10 games is now positive — indicating that the Cs' offense is improving recently.

  • Note: The trends of the offensive ratings are most significant, because if the offense does not improve between now and April — the Celtics have no chance in the playoffs.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • So what actually happened on the Cs' last road trip and the first game thereafter? What have we learned?
  • It seems this team often has only enough energy and intensity to do ONE thing very well — offense, or defense. Doing both seems to exhaust them. This is not so hard to understand in light of the dearth of true star power in the Boston roster (IT excepted). They can win, even against very good teams — but only with extraordinary effort on both ends of the court. Sometimes, they can't put out that kind of effort. Versus the Pacers, they did — but needed some spectacular late-game defensive heroics (steals) to win.
  • There appears to be a sobering message in all this for Celtics fans who pine for playoff glory ASAP. (Or some noise therein, at least.) This team can win any game versus any opponent, on a given night. But they can't do it reliably.
  • By contrast, teams with more raw talent on the roster don't need maximum effort to win. That makes their winning more sustainable, reliable.
    • The bottom line lesson from the last few games appears to be this: As currently constructed, the Celtics can go far this season, theoretically — but probably won't. They probably won't because of the extreme effort required from this roster to achieve greatness. It seems this squad cannot sustain that kind of effort across a full season's worth of games, and the playoffs that follow.
    • I.e., this team needs an infusion of talent — and will therefore be looking to get that in the trade market between now and the February 18 deadline.
    • Suns are next, Friday in the Garden. Then the Cs are immediately off on another road trip. It's a tough month, all around.

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