Best. Finish. Of the decade / Celtics' offense explodes in 4th quarter / Green Trends

The last time we looked, Boston's offense had stumbled badly in the first half of Tuesday's game in Madison Square Garden. Then on Wednesday, the offense seemed to take a dive in the second half of the Pistons match (Off.Rtg. 108.0 in the 1st half, 90.1 in the 2nd) — maybe. We can't attach much significance to the Detroit game numbers because the refs went out of their minds in the 4th quarter. So as we seek to gauge the most current trend of the Green's offense, we must look to Friday's Cavs game and beyond.

Meanwhile, the Cs' defense has been holding up well. Even in the Pistons game (where Detroit was gifted many unearned 4th-quarter free-throw points) the Def.Rtg. still ended up at 92.3 for the complete contest — a level equivalent to #1 in the NBA.

Which brings us to Friday's tilt in Cleveland. We knew it was going to be tough. We thought it would be a good test.

But no, the game sucked... in the first half. Isaiah couldn't get anything going, ending the half with 6 points on 1-7 shooting plus 4 FTs (does he get star-struck when facing supposedly "elite" teams?), Crowder literally missed everything he tried, the refs called ~everything Cleveland's way, and the Celts seemed to throw the ball more to the Cavs than to each other (Brad Stevens' characterization, not mine).

But once again, this was a tale of two halves. The Cs came out of halftime with ramped-up aggression, while the Cavs initially stagnated. Boston soon took the lead, which then changed hands several times as the game stretched into its final frame. The refs were bad throughout, but at least in the 4th quarter they stuck it to both teams.

And so it came to pass that an improbable sequence of events happened just exactly as it needed to for the Cs to pull off a fantastic win in Cleveland:
  • With ~18 seconds left in the game and the Celts down 101-96, Bradley misses a three, Sully rebounds and immediately passes to Crowder, who hits his only made basket of the game — a corner three. Two-point game, 8 seconds left.
  • On the inbound, Sully immediately fouls Irving, who hits both free throws. Celtics are down 4 with 7.5 seconds to go in the game. It's over, right? 
  • Brad Stevens uses his last timeout. Evan Turner gets the inbound pass, and immediately drives and hits a layup as the refs call a foul on JR Smith (...which nobody actually saw). There were many bad calls in this game — see Referees section. 
  • Turner misses the free throw, and....
  • Marcus "David" Smart tackles Timofey "Goliath" Mozgov under the rim as they struggle for the rebound — Why not? thought Smart... if they call a foul that's what we need anyway — but there's no call (a ref habit common to game endings) — and the ball goes bouncing out-of-bounds off James' upper leg in the scrum. (See video link in the Referees section.) 
  • The refs take time-out to review the play, and Stevens uses the opportunity to draw up a play for Turner at the rim. There are now 4.1 seconds remaining in the game, Celts down 103-101.
  • Lebron sniffs out Brad's play and switches onto Turner before the inbound, forcing Crowder to pass the ball to Isaiah (Plan B) who has less than 4 seconds to make something happen. He drives, but gets nowhere....
  • Plan C was a Bradley jumper, so Isaiah quickly passes to a scrambling Avery Bradley on the left sideline, but it's an awkward angle and the pass momentarily gets away from Avery. Less than 2 seconds left in the game now...
  • Avery recovers the ball, realizes he's almost out of time, dribbles once to his left and rises for the 3-point shot — which is MONEY — as the buzzer sounds
  • Whew!
  • And it all happened on a play designed for Turner to get two points at the rim.
This was a game of deep contrasts. The first 3 quarters were all defense and missed shots, with neither team able to score much. The last quarter was like a different universe, with the Celtics putting up fantastic scoring numbers and capping it all with a beautiful, buzzer-beating, almost-accidental masterpiece.

Best ending I've seen since game 4 of the '08 Finals (which will probably never be surpassed). 

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

They NEVER give up

Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Cleveland – Feb 5 2016:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this complete game = 103.9 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #24 offense in the NBA this season. But the contrast between the first 3 quarters and the 4th was incredible...
  • The Cs' avg Off.Rtg. for the first 3 quarters = 89.7 — equivalent to #30/worst in the league.
  • The Cs' avg Off.Rtg. for the 4th quarter = 141.9 (!) — a ridiculously high number (far higher than any NBA team has ever averaged in a season).
  • Prior to this game, CLE's defense was rated #8 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 103.3) — very good.
  • Overall in this game, CLE's defense performed like the #10 D in the league (Def.Rtg. = 103.9) — worse than their season average. And of course, they totally crapped the bed in the 4th quarter.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this complete game = 102.9 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #6 defense this season. But there was a dramatic difference between the first 3 quarters and the last...
  • The Cs' avg Def.Rtg. for the first 3 quarters = 100.7 — equivalent to the #2 defense in the league right now.
  • The Cs' avg Def.Rtg. for the 4th quarter = 109.2 — equivalent to the #29 defense in the league now. I.e., the 4th quarter was a slugfest.
  • Coming into this game, the Cavs' offense was rated #4 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 109.2) — excellent.
  • Over the complete game — 4th quarter notwithstanding — the Cs' held CLE's O to a level equivalent to the #27 offense in the NBA now (Off.Rtg. = 102.9) — much worse than CLE's season average.
Pace: Each team had 100 possessions – a little faster than the Cs' season average (98.4 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.5/game.

Cavs-Celts Referees: Grade: C-. Observations: The crew of Bill Spooner (#22), Steve Anderson (#35) and James Williams (#60) were inconsistent almost throughout. In the first half, virtually every questionable call went against Boston, while in the second half the bad calls were distributed more evenly. Is this any way to run a basketball game? Obviously not, but it is what it is...

We start with two samples from the comedy that was the 4th quarter of Wednesday's Pistons game:
  • At ~4:11 of the 4th quarter, Jae Crowder took a 3-point shot as Ilyosova slammed into him, sending Jae sprawling to the floor. No whistle. You have to see the video to appreciate how ridiculous this was. When three refs don't blow a whistle on that kind of play, there's something more than basketball going on.
  • At ~0:47 of the 4th quarter, Evan Turner grabbed a rebound and started bringing the ball up. Detroit (down 100-90) was in the foul game, so Marcus Morris immediately tried to foul Evan in the backcourt by grabbing his arm — but the refs refused to blow their whistles. Morris kept harassing Turner until finally ET dribbled ahead forcefully forearm first, to which Morris reacted with an exaggerated fall-back — whereupon referee Karl Lane instantly blew his whistle for an OFFENSIVE foul! After nearly a whole quarter of one-sided shenanigans, this was truly LOL time. Mike and Tommy were incredulous. (Well... Tommy was apoplectic...) Here's the video clip.
Now for Friday's Cavs game:
  • ~9:43 of 1st quarter — this tiny finger-touch by Amir Johnson is called a foul. See video. (Slow-mo closeup aired in the Boston broadcast.)
  • ~9:04 of 1st quarter — Kevin Love moves into Jerebko's way too late, but it's called an offensive foul on Jonas anyway. See video.
  • ~6:18 of 1st quarter — Cleveland ball?? Not really.... See video.
  • ~4:34 of 1st quarter — How is this not an and-1 for Isaiah? What is he, a pinata? See video.
  • ~6:55 of 2nd quarter — bad travel call on Tyler Zeller by ref James Williams (#60). Two steps after the gather is legal. See video.
  • ~2:57 of 2nd quarter — this was called a "tripping foul" on Crowder. Huh? In which universe? What actually happened: KLove pushed Jae to the ground, then fell over his body. Crazy bad call. Here's the video.
  • ~5:25 of 3rd quarter — Isaiah gets badly mugged on his drive/shot: no call. Unbelievable. See video. Note: IT got a tech 20 seconds later for complaining about it.
  • ~11:19 of 4th quarter — Evan Turner fouled Jefferson? No, he did not (Evan moved his arm out of the way). See video.
  • ~9:53 of 4th quarter — This held ball (with Lebron James) was instead called a foul on Marcus Smart. See video.
  • ~0:05 of 4th quarter — Foul call on JR Smith. I could not see a foul committed on Evan Turner. Here's the video. Unfortunately for the Cavs, this single questionable call in favor of the Celtics made the ending possible. But look up and see how many went the other way.
  • ~0:04 of 4th quarter — Marcus Smart fouls Mozgov on the rebound (on purpose, no doubt), practically climbing all over him: no call. (Note: The Boston broadcast had the best replay angle.) Here's the video.
And so it went on Friday. Most of the refs' errors favored Cleveland. In the end, one errant foul call was all the Celtics needed to find the win. THIS IS WHAT GREAT TEAMS DO. They take the tiny opportunities they're given to drag victory from the jaws of defeat.


Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Cavs game...
  • Offensive Rating = 105.86 — ~#12 in NBA. Range: #9–#13 in a very tight group.
  • Defensive Rating = 101.7 — #2 in NBA.
  • Net Rating = +4.2 — #6 in NBA.
Given that Boston's defense has been well-entrenched at #2–#3 in the NBA for months now, we worry most about their offense these days. After going on an offensive rampage starting January 10, the Celts' last 3 games have seen relatively weak Offensive Ratings. But the offense faltered for only 24 minutes in the Knicks game, and the Pistons game was thoroughly discombobulated by the referees.

The Cavs game was a tough one against one of the league's best defenses, and yet the Celtics' offense held up okay. Nothing to write home about — until the 4th quarter, that is — but good overall, and great when it needed to be. Now we must wait to see what happens in the last 3 pre-All-Star-break games as we look to gauge just where the Cs' recently-rampaging offense will settle.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • Boston's wins vs. New York and Detroit were more impressive than they may casually seem. In both games the Celts had to fight through bad refereeing as well as opposing teams — and yet they came away with wins both times. THIS IS A HALLMARK OF GREAT TEAMS: the ability to break through the inevitable bad breaks and still find ways to win. Great job, Cs. Great.
  • The Celtics' offense just EXPLODED in the 4th quarter of the Cavs game — and this tells us that the team really has changed. The offensively-challenged squad of the early season is gone. This is the Rampaging Green Horde now, and it can score with the best in the league. Heck, they can pull out wins with 1 point per second in the final 8 seconds of regulation when they have to. And now you know they can.
  • Gotta love this team.
  • Ummm: Coming out of a timeout with 1:30 left in the game, the best the Cs could come up with was an Evan Turner corner three?? Omg. Someone lost his mind. (I think it was me when that happened.)
  • Sully, please practice your free throws. A lot.
  • It's Rondo & Boogie next, Sunday afternoon in the Garden. Now that WILL be fun, one way or the other. --Cya.

Green Trends 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: 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 Trends (née Green Stats), see: Green Stats: Intro to advanced stats +...

Photo: Tom Withers / USA Today Sports

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