It's better to be tired than rusty / Green Trends

There's something about the All-Star break that sometimes makes good teams unready to play in the real world. The Spurs got hammered on Thursday; OKC lost and Golden State got waxed on Friday.

The Celtics sure fit that bill in their first post-AS match in Utah on Friday. They were slow and unsteady throughout, their defense was porous inside and out, and they just could not find the bottom of the net.

Meanwhile, Utah — who played a game in Washington, DC the night before, returning home at ~3am Friday — seemed much more energetic and ready to play. So much for the rust-vs.-rest debate.

As usual, the Cs tried one of their patented comebacks in the 4th quarter, but their poor shooting combined with the calls of two ridiculous referees thwarted the effort. Finally, with ~3 minutes to go in the game, Brad Stevens threw in the towel and (mercifully) cleared his bench.

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


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Utah Jazz – Feb 19 2016:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this game = 99.1 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #29 offense in the NBA this season. That's what happens when you shoot 28% from deep, 37% overall.
  • Prior to this game, UTA's defense was rated #14 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 104.8) — ~average.
  • Overall, UTA's D appeared to perform at the level of #2 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 99.1) — much better than their season average — though truth be told, this number gets its good looks more from the Celtics missing many open shots than from any great Jazz D.
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this game = 118.3 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #30 defense this season. Celts were slow on D all night, so UTA feasted in the paint, shot 54.4% overall, 43.5% from deep.
  • Coming into this game, the Jazz' offense was rated #10 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 106.3) — good.
  • UTA's O scored at a level equivalent to the #1 offense in the NBA (Off.Rtg. = 118.3).
Pace: Each team had 93 possessions – slower than the Cs' season average (98.3 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.5/game.

Referees: Grade: C-. Observations: The crew of Bill Kennedy (#55), Kevin Cutler (#34) and Kane Fitzgerald (#5) were grossly inconsistent in their calls. They started out calling nothing, despite guys getting hammered all around. (Do refs get rusty too?) As the game wore on, it turned into what often looked more like a free throw contest than an NBA game — endless touch and phantom foul calls.

And then in the 4th quarter, old friends Kevin Cutler (one of the worst refs in the known universe, responsible for one of the worst calls ever) and Kane Fitzgerald (whose crews have earned grades of F and D in past Cs games) made sure the Celtics' comeback attempt got nowhere fast by calling a foul on every Jazz drive — even when there was zero contact.

The officiating was actually fairly reasonable through the first 3 quarters. Then the hammer came down hard and fast. Some samples….
  • At ~7:28 of the 4th quarter, Kane Fitzgerald (#5) called this foul on Marcus Smart — even though there was no contact between the players. This wasn't even a touch foul; it was phantom all the way.
  • At ~7:03 of the 4th quarter, Kevin Cutler (#34) whistled another phantom foul on Marcus Smart, and once again replay showed that Smart's defense was excellent, his arms way up in the air with barely any contact at all. If that's a foul, then defense must be illegal in the NBA. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~4:57 of the 4th quarter, Kevin Cutler called yet another phantom foul, this time on Jae Crowder. At this point of the game, Fitzgerald & Cutler were treating every Jazz player like Lebron James — if he drove, he got the whistle no matter what actually happened. Smh.
  • At ~1:42 of the 4th quarter — garbage time already — Kane Fitzgerald whistled a foul on James Young which looked very questionable. The Cs had Favors surrounded and Young went for the ball. Must have breathed too hard or something. Here's the video clip.
We've noted before how bad officiating can hurt the Celtics disproportionately.

Farewell, David. We hardly knew ya...


Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Jazz game...
  • Offensive Rating = 106.5 — ~#9 in NBA. (Range: #9–#12 in a tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 102.6 — #3 in NBA. (Range: #3–#4 in a tight group.)
  • Net Rating = +3.8 — #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.

At this stage of the season, one bad game doesn't move the season standings much. But the Cs' defense has been relatively weak since the offense underwent its transformation on January 10, and it's getting worrisome (or should be).

Here are the Celts' efficiency ratings since January 10 — a total of 20 games now:
  • Offensive Rating in last 20 games = 111.1 — equivalent to ~#4 in the league.
  • Defensive Rating in last 20 games = 106.5 — equivalent to ~#19 in the league.
  • Net Rating in last 20 games = +4.6 —equivalent to ~#5 in the league.
I.e., the offense has been great since the big change, and even the overall net performance has been excellent. But the defense has declined dramatically.

How dramatically?
  • The Cs average Defensive Rating prior to January 10 was 100.5 — equivalent to #2 in the NBA. Since January 10 it's been 106.5, ~#19. Uh oh.
Now — most people who follow the Celtics believe that their defense is still strong, especially when it needs to be. But the numbers don't lie. The Cs must, in their last 26 games, prove that their defense is as good as their season numbers imply (Def.Rtg. = 102.6, #3 in the NBA season-to-date). Put another way: If you're convinced — as I am — that the Boston offense has improved dramatically from earlier in the season, then you can't deny that the defense has gone the reverse route. It may be that the D is as good as ever — but they're going to have to prove it.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • Utah was a loss and losses suck. The Green were obviously rusty. Going forward, the hope is that the oxidation will dissipate and they can get back to the trend they were setting before the break. We'll see soon.
  • The bigger concern is the Cs' defense, because it's been weak for a relatively long time now — not just in irksome Utah. As they prep for the playoffs, they're going to have to focus on that.
  • Jae Crowder and Evan Turner weren't bad in this one. ~Everyone else: rust city.
  • It was good to see Jordan Mickey again. Nice alley-oop from Rozier too. It's hard to shake the feeling that Mickey could be a gem waiting to come to light. He might get a shot now... maybe a small one.
    • Will Mickey stick around now that David Lee's been bought out? Depends… on whether Danny Ainge can find some newly-released free agent he likes better. I.e., the Celtics' roster is definitely NOT going to remain the same. One way or another, it's changing. Exactly how we'll soon find out.
    • Note: Teams have until March 1 to sign any free player who has been on another NBA team this season; such players are no longer playoff-eligible if signed after that date. The deadline for signing players who have not played for an NBA team this season (foreign, semi-retired, etc.) is the end of the regular season.
  • Next up on the Cs' road trip is Denver, on Sunday. Cya then.

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: Streeter Lecka

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