Celtics outplay Timberwolves but still lose / NBA refs on the firing line / Green Trends

Sometimes, it's just not your night. You know it when your opponents take one bad shot after another, some of them crazy — but they keep going in. 29-foot threes? Swish. A hail-mary heave with less than one-tenth of a second left in the quarter? No problem — banks right in. Step-back threes, contested long twos and threes — swish, swish, swish.

Fact is, the Timberwolves on Monday often took the very shots the Celtics wanted them to take — the ones they're supposed to miss most of the time. They just didn't miss. Not often enough, anyway.

The Cs also had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, a freak of nature whom only a handful of people on Earth can effectively defend. Towns was able to bull his way into the paint and score from there almost at will early on — until Jared Sullinger decided enough was enough late in the game. Problem was: the kid also scored from the perimeter, where his freakish shot and ridiculous shot selection too-often worked incredibly well.

And yet, despite all of MIN's lucky shots and easy inside scoring — the Cs were in it at the end. In fact, Boston outplayed Minnesota on many levels. For example: The Green had 33 assists on 49 made baskets (versus MIN's 24 assists on only 43 made baskets), and they took 101 shots to MIN's 83. The Cs also stole the ball 13 times to MIN's 5, and the overall turnover numbers heavily favored the Cs: 17-11.

So wait.... Boston scored many more points on field goals (108 versus MIN's 94) and yet lost. Why?

The tipping point that proved too much to overcome in this game was the officiating. In a contest where the refs swallowed their whistles early on, those whistles got pointedly unswallowed in the game's latter stages as the Cs got hit with a bunch of fouls that made little sense in the context of the game. In the end, the disparity in free throws — 40 for MIN, 17 for BOS — was too glaring and ridiculous to overcome. (Note: Boston fouled intentionally only ~4 times.) That FT contrast stands now as partial testament to the mendacity of the referees.

Fact: Isaiah Thomas is in the NBA's top 7 guards at getting to the free throw line, per game. Guess how many FTs he got in this game. Go on, take a wild one. ZERO FREE THROWS. And was that because he wasn't aggressive? Did he stop driving to the rim in this game for some reason? Is the Pope Presbyterian? When was the last time you saw IT not be aggressive on offense? Fact is, IT played extremely hard all game long, driving aggressively to the rim like he always does. Okay — so were the Wolves extra careful not to foul him? Are you kidding? They HAMMERED him! Hard and often. But the whistles never came. Not once.

The officiating in Sunday's Denver game was extremely incompetent, but it was not biased. The refs in the Wolves game WERE effectively biased — but subtly, in ways that were not easy to spot.

NBA officiating, while somewhat better now than in years past, is still hopelessly sick. Until and unless the referees are stripped of their unbridled power — until there is REAL feedback and punishment for referee misbehavior — including fines and loss of employment for the worst offenders — the NBA game will continue to flounder as a serious sport. Games like Monday's — and others, like February 21 vs Nuggets (Sunday's game), November 22 vs. Nets (with David Guthrie officiating), and December 11 vs Warriors (with Monty McCutchen officiating), et al — are open jokes that make a mockery of this league.

It's shameful.

Currently, the only sane way to follow the NBA is to be willing to throw out a certain number of games per season. You just have to wipe them from your memory — because they were manipulated and/or outright stolen by the referees, for whatever nefarious reasons they do these things. The experience is wearying.

Here are some details on the game, including a rundown of what the referees did and where the club stands now...
I was a pinata in Minnesota

Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Minnesota – Feb 22 2016:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 117.4 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #1 offense in the NBA this season. Cs hit ~36% of their 3s and shot 48.5% overall. They had 33 assists and forced 17 TOs while committing only 11 (several of which were wrongly called). They did a lot of things right. More than enough to win most games.
  • Prior to this game, MIN's defense was rated #29 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 109.4) — bad.
  • Versus the Cs, MIN's D performed at a level equivalent to the NBA's #30 defense (Def.Rtg. = 117.4).
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 119.4 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #30 defense this season. Wolves hit tough shots and got lots of unearned free throws.
  • Coming into this game, the Wolves' offense was rated #13 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 105.6) — good, not great.
  • The numbers indicate that the Cs' D allowed MIN's O to score at a level equivalent to the NBA's #1 offense (Off.Rtg. = 119.4). But BOS' D wasn't as bad as the numbers imply. MIN hit a lot of tough shots, and their many gifted FTs helped make the numbers look bad.
Pace: Each team had 104 possessions – faster than the Cs' season average (98.5 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.6/game.

Referees: Grade: F. Observations: The crew of David Guthrie (#16), Scott Twardoski (#52) and Monty McCutchen (#13) apparently decided to 'let em play' in the early periods. Right from the start, we saw guys getting slammed with no calls. Some of the no-calls hurt MIN; most hurt BOS. Then in the 4th quarter, the whistles started sounding fast and furious — mostly against the Celtics. Suddenly, contact that was previously ignored was whistled when it helped the Wolves — while clear fouls committed by them were ignored.

But this wasn't obvious; it was subtly done. The effective end result was referee bias, though, and it changed the outcome of the game.

Incompetence is annoying; bias is infuriating — especially when it changes outcomes (which it usually does).

I don't know if the refs manipulated this game on purpose, or if they just made a lot of mistakes which happened to weigh mostly against the Celtics. I don't know because I am not a mind reader.

Thing is, fans don't really care WHY the refs screw up. That's someone else's job to figure out. Fans care when incompetence and/or dishonesty ruin this beautiful sport.

Note: We will focus here on the bad and missed calls that went against Boston. There were a couple-or-so no-calls that went against MIN, but those were far fewer and less consequential than the reverse; and listing everything that went wrong in this game is beyond our scope here. WARNING: This list is longgg. Feel free to skim/skip/or watch every video. Your call.
  • At ~9:56 of the 1st quarter, the ball went out-of-bounds and was called BOS ball. But Isaiah Thomas was obviously and badly fouled on the play by Ricky Rubio, who grabbed and pulled IT's arm and pushed him to ground. It all happened right in front of referee David Guthrie (#16) — but no call. This was an egregious error, because the foul was so obvious and hard. (Unfortunately, the NBA does not even mention this play in their official play-by-play for the game; therefore, no video clip is available. You gotta go back to your DVR if you can, or find the game online.)
  • Then, at ~9:10 of Q1, Isaiah was defending Rubio when IT made light contact with Andrew Wiggins setting a pick — and ISAIAH got called for a foul! Here's the video clip. Smh… The game was already getting insane at this point.
  • At ~6:26 of Q1, Karl-Anthony Towns drove into Amir Johnson while getting a shot off. Looked like an offensive foul, as Amir was outside the restricted area and vertical at the time. No call. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~4:25 of Q1, Isaiah Thomas was clearly fouled while taking a shot, body-slammed to the ground by Gorgui Dieng. No call. Unreal. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~7:31 of the 2nd quarter, Tyus Jones, Avery Bradley and Jonas Jerebko all found themselves chasing a loose ball. Magically, Jones was able to race ahead and get it. How did he do that? First he kicked the ball (which was not called). Then he fouled BOTH Bradley and Jerebko at the same time, using his arms to push them both back while propelling himself forward to the ball. The result was an easy 2 points for MIN at the rim. No call. Wow. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~6:10 of Q2, Adreian Payne (#33, a massive fouler) openly and obviously pushed Tyler Zeller to the ground in a scrum. The result was an open three from the corner. No call. Here's the video clip. (Focus on the middle of the screen at ~6:10.)
  • At ~5:30 of Q2, ref David Guthrie (#16) called this play a shooting foul. Two mistakes here: (1) Replay on the Boston broadcast (NBA only supplies clips from the home team) showed no foul by Sully. (2) How is that even close to a shooting foul? Ridiculous call.
  • At ~5:12 of Q2, Adreian Payne used his left arm to push Evan Turner back so he could get to the ball they were both chasing, which led to 2 easy points for MIN. An obvious foul. No call. Here's the video clip. (Focus on Payne's left arm at the beginning of the clip, as both Payne and Turner race for the ball.)
  • At ~1:59 of Q2, Towns clearly traveled when he moved his pivot foot (his left) prior to the dribbled ball hitting the ground. No call. Here's the video clip. Note: Towns scored on this play in part because of the illegal advantage he gained by traveling on the takeoff.
  • At ~9:50 of the 3rd quarter, Isaiah Thomas was hit on his left arm and body by Towns while IT was in the air shooting. A clear and obvious foul. No call. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~6:36 of Q3, an obvious moving screen by Gorgui Dieng (#5) pushed Avery Bradley into Ricky Rubio. Instead of calling the offensive foul on the screener, ref David Guthrie called a blocking foul on Avery. Rubio got 3 free throws out of it, made them all. Here's the video clip. --Are you counting how many points were gifted to the Wolves in this game? A whole lot more than the 2 that separated the final scores.
  • At ~4:40 of Q3, Andrew Wiggins clearly moved his body into Isaiah's body and arms in a successful attempt to steal the ball. No call, of course. Isaiah was apparently the refs' designated pinata in this game. Here's the video clip. (You can see them collide at the very beginning of the clip. The Boston broadcast had a better view.)
  • At ~4:14 of Q3, ref David Guthrie called on offensive foul on Isaiah Thomas as he drove to the rim. (Rubio clearly had no established position.) Here's the video clip. Now see this next one....
    • At~1:22 of the 4th quarter, Wiggins drove into Marcus Smart in a play that was virtually identical to the one at ~4:14 of Q3, which had been called a charge. This time, of course, it was called a blocking foul on Smart. Here's the video clip. When the same play happens on opposite sides and is called in favor of the same team both times — there's something rotten going on.
  • At ~0:37 of Q3, Towns set this moving screen. No call. (MIN eventually scored 2 points on the possession.) To see the uncalled violation, pause the video as soon as the ball is touched, then look for Towns in the middle as he sets the illegal screen.
  • At ~0:01 of Q3, Marcus Smart was fouled TWICE by Wiggins as Marcus tried to control the ball. No call. Instead, the out-of-bounds was ruled Wolves' ball. Here's the video clip. (The end result was Dieng's crazy 3-point shot with less than 0.1 left on the clock.) Now compare that play to this next one...
    • At ~1:56 of the 4th quarter, a play similar to the one at 0:01 of Q3 occurred, with Marcus Smart looking to steal the ball from Ricky Rubio. It was called a foul on Smart, by referee Scott Twardoski. In the 4th quarter, with the game on the line — suddenly these kinds of calls all went MIN's way. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~7:10 of the 4th quarter, Isaiah drove to the rim and ran into Adreian Payne who was deep in the restricted area when contact occurred. No call, once again. (So instead of two FTs, Isaiah got charged with a turnover.) Here's the video clip.
  • At ~5:54 of Q4, the ball went out of bounds and was called Wolves' ball. Replay clearly showed it was last touched by Wiggins. Another bad call. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~5:04 of the Q4, Scott Twardoski (#52) whistled Jae Crowder for a foul that had no connection to reality. Virtually pure phantom. (There may have been very slight incidental contact between Jae's hand and LaVine's chest.) Very bad call. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~4:29 of Q4, Isaiah was obviously fouled by Wiggins while going up for a layup. No call. Typical of the whole game. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~3:49 of Q4, as Marcus Smart went up for a layup at the rim, his arm was clearly grabbed by Ricky Rubio. Here's the video clip. No call — at a time when they were calling many touch fouls in MIN's favor.
  • At ~2:39 of Q4, Scott Twardoski decided to call this offensive foul on Avery Bradley. After ignoring such contact through most of the game, suddenly the calls started coming against the Cs in the 4th quarter, when it was most critical. At the same time, obvious fouls committed by the Timberwolves were ignored.

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.
Zero free throws for Isaiah Thomas.


Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Wolves game...
  • Offensive Rating = 106.8 — ~#9 in NBA.
  • Defensive Rating = 102.86 — #4 in NBA. (Range: #3–#7 in a tight group.)
  • Net Rating = +4.0 — #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.

This MIN game was a strange one. As the numbers lay, the Cs' defense looks like it was bad. But the truth is that the Green worked hard and well on D — the Wolves just made tough/lucky shots, and the refs totally screwed up the whole thing.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • If Dieng doesn't make that super-lucky banked three in the last tenth-of-a-second of the 3rd quarter, Cs probably win this one. Despite all the shenanigans by the refs. Lesson: It's better to be lucky… than just about anything else. Also: Refs control games. Duh.
  • The numbers for the Cs' defense since early January are getting more and more worrisome. It's going to be hard to remember that in this particular game (and a few others), those numbers don't accurately reflect the defensive effort.
  • Towns doesn't impress me as much as he prob should. His "jumper" is not a jumper. It's a weird kind of standstill/hybrid with very little actual jumping. (Here's an example.) He made a lot of those shots in this game, but his form is fundamentally flawed and it's going to catch up with him at some point (if he doesn't fix it).
  • Jae Crowder was terrific in this one, and so was IT in Q4. But nobody could defend Towns effectively, especially in the paint. The guy's a beast and only another beast can stop him. Another BIG beast.
  • Cs get three days off, then it's the Bucks in the Garden on Thursday. Cya when I 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: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today

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