How a loss in Dallas got to be one of my favorite games of the season / Green Trends

It is a truth universally acknowledged that winning is better than losing. But winning is not everything... nor is it the only thing (with apologies to coaches Sanders & Lombardi). Sometimes — especially deep in the guts of an 82-game regular season, when individual wins and losses don't matter a heckuva lot — losing a well-played game can be better than winning one with bad play turned lucky.

And so, for whatever reasons, I found myself enjoying the Celtics' Monday tilt in Dallas more than any game I can remember this season.

Okay, you want some reasons. Here are two now (...the rest will be in the Notes, below):
  • We've seen it before, but it was particularly striking in this game: The smiles of joy on the faces of the Green. It's hard to pinpoint where it comes from, but there is a kind of exultant pride with which this team plays that's pretty rare in this sport. They LOVE the game. They love playing together, and for this team. It's impossible to fake that kind of emotion — just as it was impossible for me to stop the smile on my face as I watched it.
  • For no known particular reason, this game had an intensity one rarely sees outside of the playoffs. There was no logic to it; these teams aren't even in the same conference. But it was there all night long — for both teams, the crowd, and, I suspect, for most of us watching from a distance.
The Celtics started the game dismally, unable to either score efficiently or stop the Mavs from doing so. The Cs' offensive and defensive ratings in the first half were BOTH equivalent to #30 in the NBA — worse than the worst.

But the second half — especially the third quarter — saw a fierce comeback by the Cs (unaided by the refs in any way). It was a beautiful thing.

The 4th quarter unfortunately saw 5 egregious referee errors and omissions which helped prevent an outright Boston win in regulation — and then the Cs hit some cold shooting in the beginning of overtime (while the Mavs hit everything in sight) and so Boston ultimately lost. But that doesn't really matter. What matters at this point of the season is only how well they can play. "What is this team's ceiling?" is the critical question. Through at least the second half of this game, that ceiling appeared to be sky-high.

Here are details on the game, where the club stands now, and more...


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Dallas – Jan 18 2016:

Dirk & Isaiah. One of them is levitating.

Cs’ Offensive Rating for this complete game = 109.9 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #4 offense in the NBA this season. Note: In regulation, the Cs' Off.Rtg. was 106.8, equivalent to #7 in the NBA.
  • The Cs' Offensive Rating in the 1st half was 91.0 — equivalent to #30 in the league. And it wasn't due to any great defense by Dallas — Cs just missed shots. A lot of em. (At one point, they were 1-15 on field goal attempts. 6.7%. Let that sink in.)
  • The 2nd half was the exact opposite of the first: In it, the Cs' Offensive Rating rocketed to 120.5 (!), much higher than the NBA's current highest season rating.
  • Prior to this game, DAL's defense was rated #15 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 104.6) — mediocre.
  • Versus the Cs, for the game as a whole, DAL's D performed on the level of the #30 defense in the league (Def.Rtg. = 109.9).
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this complete game = 114.8 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #30 defense this season. Note: In regulation, the Cs' Def.Rtg. was 106.8, equivalent to #20 in the NBA.
  • The Cs' Defensive Rating in the 1st half was a ridiculous 121.3 — much worse than league worst.
  • The 2nd half was the exact opposite of the first: In it, the Cs' Defensive Rating was 94.0 — better than the NBA's best current season rating.
  • Boston's defensive effort was actually quite intense throughout this game. The reason the overall game-average rating looks poor is that Dallas hit a lot of tough shots — especially threes. (It was pretty crazy how many they hit at critical moments.)
  • Coming into this game, the Mavs' offense was rated #14 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 104.9) — mediocre.
  • In the game as a whole, the Cs' D allowed DAL's O to perform at a level equivalent to the league's #1 offense (Off.Rtg. = 114.8). Note: In regulation, it was lower: 106.8, equivalent to #7.
Pace: In regulation, each team had 92 possession – slower than the Cs' season average (98.1 – #4 in NBA). League average = 95.5 per 48-minutes. (Note: Including OT, each team had a total of 103 possessions.)

Referees: We split the grade this time. Rodney Mott (#71) and Kevin Cutler (#34) get a grade of D-, as they did a poor job throughout this game. (Remember Cutler? He's the guy who made this call — one of the worst ever.) Eric Dalen (#37) did a decent job of officiating (Grade: B), but he couldn't stem the tide of bad calls in the 4th quarter.
  • At ~9:26 of the 2nd quarter, Rodney Mott called a foul on Jonas Jerebko when Jonas was guarding Raymond Felton. Felton had lowered his shoulder and bulled his way to the rim, paying no attention to anyone in front of him. Jerebko backed up furiously, touching nothing with his hands — and STILL got called for a "blocking foul." Here's the clip. OK, for the record — this was an IDIOTIC CALL. If that's a foul, then it is impossible to even ATTEMPT to guard anyone driving to the rim in this league. And if that were true, basketball would be a very silly sport.
  • At ~0:05 of the 2nd quarter, Isaiah Thomas drove toward the rim and was fouled by Wesley Matthews AFTER Isaiah took his last dribble and AS he went into his the shooting motion — a clear three point attempt. From the video, there is zero question that IT should have gone to the line for 3 free throws. (Ignore the Mavs announcers in the clip: they're just babbling nonsense.) The refs called this a non-shooting foul. Very, very bad call.
  • At ~9:11 of the 4th quarter, Rodney Mott called a foul on Marcus Smart as he was guarding a Wesley Matthews drive to the rim. Replay showed that Matthews had slipped, and was in fact not fouled. Another bad call.
  • At ~8:52 of the 4th, Kevin Cutler called a foul on Jerebko for no reason — basically, for allowing Dirk to pound into his body several times. For not disappearing, I guess. See for yourself.
  • At ~3:53 of the 4th, Kevin Cutler called a "kicked ball" when Deron Williams attempted a pass. Replay showed that Williams' pass attempt in fact bounced off Williams' OWN LEG. The rule is that if a kick is not intentional, it is not a violation. If it was not a violation, why did the refs stop play and reward the Mavs with an additional 7 seconds on the shot clock (which resets to a minimum 14 seconds in actual kicked ball situations)? This was great anticipatory defense by the Cs, and was going to be a turnover for sure — until it was prevented by the referee's whistle. Another very bad call. (P.S. Kevin Butler is one of the worst referees in the league.) Here's the video. (Note: the Boston broadcast included the slow-motion replay.)
  • At ~0:16 of the 4th, Sullinger was clearly fouled in the act of shooting by Pachulia. No call. This was after several touch/near-phantom fouls were whistled against the Celtics on the other end of the floor (mostly by Cutler and Mott) for contact much less egregious than Pachulia's foul on Sully. Here's the video (the Boston broadcast included the slow-motion replay, which showed the foul clearly).
  • In the last few seconds of regulation, Pachulia caught an inbound pass, and then lost control of the ball on an attempted pass. He then ran and got the ball, and then STARTED DRIBBLING. You can't do that in the NBA. It's a double-dribble and a turnover. But: no call. Here's the video.

Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Mavs game...
  • Offensive Rating = 104.9 — ~#14 in NBA. (Range: #14–#19 in a very tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 101.4 — #2 in NBA. (Range: #2–#3. Note: The Cs' Def.Rtg. has worsened, but so have the defensive ratings of the rest of the league — that's why they're still #2 with a significantly worse Def.Rtg. than just 2-3 weeks ago.)
  • Net Rating = +3.2 — #7 in NBA.
The recent trend of dramatically-improving offense and some decline in the defensive ratings continues.

Note: The positive trend of the offense is a key component of the Cs' fate this season. Boston's defense has been in the league's top-5 for months, while the offense has lagged badly until recently. With their current offensive renaissance, the Celts aim to get their O into the NBA's top-10 — thus becoming true contenders.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • The second half of this game saw the Celtics playing sublime basketball. As good as it gets. They overwhelmed the Mavs, earning #1-level Offensive and Defensive Ratings for the half. (We've seen this level of play from them before, in halves — though usually it's in the first half, not the second.)
  • If this team's ceiling were ever to be as high as it appeared to be in the second half of this game — and in some other halves we've seen recently — then these Cs would have a very bright future ahead of them.
  • The key for now is for the offense to continue its upward trajectory, and achieve a top-10 level of play. If they can do that while still maintaining at least a ~top-5-or-6 defense, then they're contenders by definition. They're getting close now (though the sample size is still small).
  • Now here are some of the reasons why this was one of my favorite games of the season:
    • The intensity of the competition was off the charts for a cross-conference regular-season game. There's no rivalry there. What happened? I dunno, but it was great.
    • The shots of the Cs' smiles of pure joy when they were pulling ahead in the second half. Great, great stuff.
    • The hilarity of seeing Isaiah Thomas seriously guarding Dirk Nowitzki at the top of the key. Alone. Was it crazy? Yeah, it was crazy. Dirk was so flabbergasted, he actually missed his (easy) shot the first time it happened. (But after that, he calmly shot right over IT and hit. That switch is, after all, ridiculous.)
    • Isaiah's beautiful jump-pass from the key to Kelly Olynyk standing in the deep wing, for three points. IT was in the air and in his shooting motion when he changed his mind and converted to a pass. Smh. That guy is amazing. Here's the video.
    • Marcus Smart's continuing evolution on offense. He's already an elite defender. Now we're seeing his scoring ability driving to the rim. The only thing left is his jump shot, and that's showing strong signs of improvement too — he shot 8-13 overall in this game, including 2-4 on threes, for a game eFG% of 69.2% — pretty darn great! (For reference, the guard with the highest eFG% in the league right now is Steph Curry, at 63.4%.)
  • Btw, you may have noticed that we've changed the name for this series of posts. Reason: "Stats" are tools we use. What we do here is identify trends — often well before they become obvious. So a more appropriate name seemed... you know.... appropriate.
  • Raptors are next, Wednesday in Toronto. Cya.

Green Trends is a series in which we analyze the Celtics & identify emerging new trends. Posts generally run within ~1-20 hours after Cs games.
Efficiency ratings source for comps: Misc: (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.'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: Glenn James

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