Celtics' new paradigm? / Bench + D beat Heat / Green Trends

Conventional wisdom, based on long NBA history, has it that you gotta have superstars to win championships. The Celtics are trying to change that history, and maybe write a new paradigm while they're at it. In their last couple of games, the Cs have demonstrated that new way of winning for all to see.

We know that in the playoffs, rotations shorten and the starters for each team are expected to shine; hopes rise and fall with starters in the postseason. But rules are made to be broken. Where is is written that you can't have a 9 or 10-man rotation in the playoffs?

In Thursday's 112-107 win over Milwaukee, Boston's starters scored 94 points in total. On Saturday vs. Miami, that same group managed only 17 pts by halftime (52 overall). And yet the Cs beat the Heat too: 101-89.

In that first half vs. MIA, the Celts just couldn't buy a basket: Isaiah (0-8), Avery and Jae all combined for a grand total of 2-17 shooting. But BOS was down only 3 pts at the half — because the bench stepped up, hitting 12 of their 20 shots in the half, including 2 threes.

The rest of the job was done by the Cs' defense — shared by all — which has refound its mojo in Boston's last few games.

So: on Thursday, the starters carried the team offensively. On Saturday, it was the bench doing the heavy lifting on that end in the first half. You never know who's gonna step up for this team.

Meanwhile, everyone's been solid on D lately.

If this trend continues (two games, or even 3-out-of-4, is too few to call a true trend: more like an inclination to a trend right now) — so that the Green's D stays strong, while the offense continues its by-now well-established elite-level performance — then the Celtics will enter the playoffs with their new paradigm firmly in place, ready to battle the old guard* for league supremacy. (* 'Old guard' excludes the Warriors, who are probably unbeatable now.)

Defense + Offense-shared-with-bench-&-no-superstar = the Celtics' paradigm. (Note: My apologies to Isaiah for excluding him from superstar status right now. He could easily get there.)

Here are some details on Saturday's game, and where the club stands now...


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Miami – Feb 27 2016:

Defense wins

Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 103.5 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #26 offense in the NBA this season. MIA's D is good and it showed.
  • Prior to this game, MIA's defense was rated #8 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 103.3) — solid.
  • Versus the Cs, MIA's D performed at a level equivalent to the NBA's #9 defense (Def.Rtg. = 103.5) — almost identical to MIA's season average.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 91.2 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #1 defense this season. Cs forced 20 turnovers (to their own 11) and were defensively solid throughout.
  • Coming into this game, the Heat's offense was rated #26 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 103.5) — weak.
  • The Cs' D held MIA's O to a level equivalent to the league's #30 offense (Off.Rtg. = 91.2).
Pace: Each team had 98 possessions – almost equal to the Cs' season average (98.7 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.7/game.

Referees: Grade: B. Observations: The crew of Mike Callahan (#24), Gediminas Petraitis (#50) and James Williams (#60) had a near-perfect first half — but then messed up THREE different goaltending calls within ~2 minutes in the 3rd quarter (some kind of record?), and also missed a foul that sprained Avery Bradley's ankle, allowed two different Heat players to stand in the paint for 5-6 seconds on offense, and miscalled a foul on Bradley in the game's last 2 minutes. Isaiah Thomas was fouled hard 3 separate times with no calls — an incipient pattern in recent games — but this crew was doing that to both sides, so it was ~ reasonably acceptable. Sorta.
  • At ~2:23 of the 3rd quarter, Josh Richardson "blocked" a Marcus Smart layup at the rim (called a "big-time block" on-air) — but it was in fact goaltending. Frame-by-frame review of the play showed that the ball hit the backboard a tiny fraction of a second before Richardson touched it. It was absolutely impossible to see in live play. (--Which is why all such calls should be reviewed.) Here's the video clip provided by the NBA.
  • At ~1:28 of Q3, ref Mike Callahan called a defensive goaltending violation on Hassan Whiteside who was defending a Jae Crowder jumper from the side. Frame-by-frame review showed that the ball had not begun its descent when Whiteside touched it — making this another bad goaltending call. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~0:13 of Q3, Whiteside tipped a rebound into the basket for a score — but slow-motion replay shown on-air clearly revealed that the tip occurred while the ball was in the cylinder above the rim and was therefore offensive goaltending. This was the 3rd goaltending call in ~2 minutes that the refs got wrong. Here's the NBA-provided video clip (which unfortunately doesn't have the top-down slow-motion replay shown a little later in the Boston broadcast).
  • At ~7:03 of the 4th quarter, Avery Bradley took a jumper defended by Whiteside, who moved too far into Avery's space, causing AB's left foot to land on Whiteside's sneaker which caused Bradley's ankle to twist to a 90-degree angle — typically enough to cause at least a low-grade sprain. There was no call on this injury-causing foul. Here's the video clip. (But note: the slow-motion replay from a better angle was shown a little later in the Boston broadcast and is not provided by the NBA.)
  • At ~5:55 of Q4, with MIA on offense, Whiteside moved into the paint and stayed there for a full 6 seconds before a shot went up, while Josh McRoberts dribbled into the paint and stayed there for 5 full seconds before passing the ball to Whiteside. That's TWO simultaneous offensive 3-second violations. None was called. Here's the video clip. You gotta see this one (no slow-mo replay required). Wow.
  • At ~1:46 of Q4, referee James Williams (#60), who had to that point called an excellent game, whistled a foul on Avery Bradley as he guarded a Dwayne Wade jumper. Slow-motion replay (aired a little later in the Boston broadcast, and not included in the NBA-provided clip) clearly showed NO contact at all. Bad call. Here's the NBA's video clip of the play.
  • Fyi: Here are the no-calls on 3 hard fouls committed on Isaiah Thomas: (1) ~4:22 Q2, (2) ~1:24 Q2, and (3) ~0:47 Q4.
Note: The clips linked to here are provided by the NBA. They are not always optimal for viewing the errors referees made. You may need to see the original broadcast — usually Boston's is best — to get the best views.
Tech Note: NBA clips are finicky and don't work in all browsers. Chrome should work okay. Javascript must be enabled, ad blockers turned off, etc.
Goaltending calls are the toughest in the NBA. They should generally be reviewed, because they're too-often impossible to accurately see in live play.


Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Heat game...
  • Offensive Rating = 106.8 — # 9 in NBA.
  • Defensive Rating = 102.9 — # 4 in NBA. (Range: #3–#4 in a tight group.)
  • Net Rating = +4.2 — # 7 in NBA.
Note: Ranges are given when the rankings of teams are so close, exact placement is effectively a tossup that can change with every game played.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • Cs beat a good team despite awful first-half shooting from the starters. Paradigm shmaradigm — these guys are playing great basketball. Pleasure to watch.
  • It's interesting to look at the Cs' most-recent games to try to identify new emerging trends:
    • In their last 4 contests, they've averaged an Offensive Rating of 111.4 (~equivalent to 3rd-best in the NBA), and a Defensive Rating of 102.8 (~equivalent to 4th-best).
    • But the 2/22 Minnesota game was marred by awful officiating, so let's look at what happens if we remove it from the calculation: In the remaining contests, the Cs averaged an Offensive Rating of 109.3 (equivalent to 6th-best in NBA), and a Defensive Rating of 97.2 — which would be the best defense in the NBA if it were a season mark!
    • These stats are obviously from a small sample (and somewhat cherry-picked) — but the trend that's potentially forming is clear. The Celtics are getting back to their defensive roots. It may cost them a few points on the offensive end, but it's worth it. Gotta know who you are and who brought you to the dance.
  • Isaiah Thomas is a lot more valuable on defense than most people think. He does things that are hard to see. Here's a play (~2:06 Q4) where IT knocks the ball away from Dragic, from behind, causing a turnover. This kind of thing happens a lot when Isaiah's out there.
  • Hassan Whiteside sure is impressive on defense. His instincts are terrific. With some well-tuned coaching and a bit more motivation, the kid could be a franchise anchor. If there's any way to get him.......
  • Utah's next, on Monday 2/29. They're a tough team: #10 on offense, #13 on D. 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: 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 Trends (née Green Stats), see: Green Stats: Intro to advanced stats +...

Photo: Maddie Meyer

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