Celtics' offense is making a strong move up. Will it work? / Green Stats

Deciphering the Celtics

In 3 of their last 4 games, the Celtics have scored at an elite rate equivalent to the #1 or #2 offense in the NBA. (The exception was Indiana, a top defensive team.)

In 2 of those 4 games, Boston's defense was at the level of the NBA's worst. In the other two games, the D was elite (when they faced relatively weak offenses).

Only once, in the Phoenix game, were both O and D at elite levels. (Note: The Suns are not a very good team.)

The Celtics have clearly decided to fix their offense, and it's working. They're making a strong move right now to get their O into the league's top-10. There are two key questions about this move, and both relate to defense.

We'll get into all that in the Notes, below. First — details on the Wiz game, and where the club stands now...


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Washington Wizards – Jan 16 2016:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 119.4 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #1 offense in the NBA this season. It was an offensive slugfest.
  • Prior to this game, WASH's defense was rated #18 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 106.2) — mediocre.
  • Versus the Cs, WASH's D performed like the #30 defense in the league (Def.Rtg. = 119.4). This was a low-D game all around.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 117.4 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #30 defense this season. Slugfest.
  • Coming into this game, the Wizards' offense was rated #19 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 104.2) — mediocre.
  • The Cs' D allowed WASH's O to perform at a level equivalent to the league's #1 offense (Off.Rtg. = 117.4).
Pace: Each team had 100 possessions – faster than the Cs' season average (98.2 – #4 in NBA). League average = 95.6/game.

Referees: Grade: D. Observations: Refs Josh Tiven (#58), Tyler Ford (#39), and Tony Brothers (#25) did a reasonably good job in the first half. Then they totally blew it in the 4th quarter with a series of wildly bad calls that almost changed the outcome of the game.
  • At ~0:03 of the 2nd quarter, Jae Crowder was violently elbowed in the back by DeJuan Blair on an inbound pass. It was a sneaky, very hard, purposeful foul that sent Jae sprawling to the floor. No call. Where in the rules does it say that when there are seconds left in a period it's okay to attack opposing players?
  • The 4th quarter was the refs' undoing. At ~4:04 of the 4th, referee Josh Tiven (#58) whistled Sullinger for his 6th foul as he was going for a rebound — even though Sully had position and his opponent jumped over Sully's back to get to the ball. Bad call... but much worse was to come.
  • At ~0:23 of the 4th, Wall took a 3pt shot and missed. In the rebound scrum, Nene used his forearm/elbow to hit Jae Crowder with force in the neck-and-head area. The refs saw this, reviewed it via video replay — and decided to call it "incidental contact." In what universe is it "incidental" to hit an opposing player in the neck and head?
  • At ~0:23 of the 4th, with the game on the line, Tony Brothers (#25) saw fit to call a technical foul on Crowder as Jae was standing waiting for Wall's free throw. At the time, Jae was having a "conversation" of sorts with Washington head coach Randy Wittman, who was standing quite far from Jae. Later, Jae said that Brothers told him that he "hadn't heard anything" from Wittman, only from Jae. One wonders how that could be possible when they were BOTH YELLING because they were so far apart. In any case, this is a very strange call to be making at such a critical moment. (In Brothers' defense, it's possible that he warned Jae to stop the back-and-forth with Wittman. Even so, why did only Jae get a tech? Why not both — which would have negated the unearned advantage the tech gave to the Wizards?)
  • At ~0:16 of the 4th, Wall put his shoulder down while driving to the rim and slammed into Marcus Smart who was clearly in front of him. They both tumbled to the ground and referee Tyler Ford (#39) called it a blocking foul. Terrible call. Smh.
  • At ~0:14, Tyler Ford (#39) called another foul on Smart who did nothing but try to rebound the ball. Another bad call.
  • Bottom line: The refs appeared to do their best to push this game to the Wizards. They didn't succeed — but it sure looked like it was not for lack of trying.

Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Wizards game...
  • Offensive Rating = 104.8 — ~#15 in NBA. (Range: #15–#18 in a very tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 101.4 — #4 in NBA. (Range: #3–#5 in a very tight group.)
  • Net Rating = +3.4 — #7 in NBA. (Unchanged)
A full analysis of the Celtics' recent situation appeared here. Since then, the numbers for the offense have skyrocketed, per the Offensive Opponent-Adjusted Ratings — which are now trending positively for the season, as well as for the Cs' last 10 and last 15 games (where the upswing is pretty dramatic: see graphs).
  • The positive movement of the Offensive OARs is a key component of the Cs' fate this season. Boston's defense has been in the league's top-5 for months now, while the offense has lagged badly. If the Celts can get their offense into the top-10 — they become instant contenders. With their current roster.
  • Now that the offense is rocketing upward, anything is possible for this team.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • With the offense making such a strong move up now, the Cs' prospects for the season are looking much better. Two key questions need to be answered:
    • Can the Celtics maintain a solid offense when they face a top defensive team? Big, important question. The Pacers are a top defensive team. And in fact, in the recent game versus Indiana, Boston's offense managed an Offensive Efficiency Rating of only 100.5 — equivalent to #28 in the league. The Cs must be able to perform offensively against tough defenses, else the playoffs will be a very short story.
    • Can the Cs maintain their defense as their offensive firepower improves? The small sample we have so far (basically the last 4-5 games) indicates that the defense suffers when the Cs focus on offense. Obviously, to seriously succeed in the playoffs a team must play ~elite-level basketball on BOTH ends of the court. There is no other way.
  • This story is developing at this moment. It's far from finished. We must wait to see what comes from the major move the Cs are making now on the offensive end. The good news is that there is plenty of time left for this team to find ways to excel on both ends of the court at the same time.
  • If the Green can maintain elite-level performance on both ends against most opponents, even if their offense does sputter against the top defensive teams — they could still go far in the playoffs. Case in point: the recent Pacers game, where the Cs found a way to win with great D and good-enough offense — against one of the league's best defensive squads.
Wall missed because the Cs defended
  • Coach Stevens said after the Wizards game that "we were lucky Wall missed that layup." That his team can't let a guy go end-to-end uncontested like that. I disagree. The reason Wall missed WAS THE DEFENSE. See the pic. And also: Wall is one of the fastest, toughest players in the world to stop in the open court. He missed. Good D, Cs!
  • You will probably read in various places how "exciting" this game was. It wasn't. The "excitement" was all phony, manufactured by the extremely bad officiating in the final minute. The tech on Crowder ALONE made it a close game, because absent that one call, the Wizards could only play the foul game (the shot clock was already off at that point). And when you recognize all the other bad calls at the end of the game — it really shouldn't have been that close at all.
  • Washington played a great game, and the Celtics can be proud of their performance against this tough opponent.
  • Now the Cs need to focus on both offense and defense. That's the ticket to the promised land.
  • Mavs are next, Monday in Dallas. Cya.

Green Stats is where we analyze the Celtics & identify emerging new trends — before they become obvious. Posts generally run within ~1-20 hours after Cs games.
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: Ned Dishman/Getty

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