Celtics edge Jazz with gutsy comeback / An unusual game / Green Trends

A funny thing happened in TD Garden on Monday night. The Celtics couldn't throw the ball into the ocean in the first quarter, and struggled offensively through most of Q2 and Q3 too. They must've set a record for most shots missed at the rim. I mean, it was mind-boggling: one 0-2 foot bunny after another would miss, and miss again and again and again, ad nauseum. Meanwhile, Utah got nice, friendly bounces — shots would bounce around a few times above the rim, and fall right in. For a long while, it felt like one of those nights when you just couldn't win for losing.

And yet the Cs remained in the hunt throughout — down by 6 after one quarter, by 3 at the half, and just 1 after Q3.

This team is nothing if not tenacious.

They came back — after the 1st quarter — with excellent defense and gradually-improving offense. And cojones.

By the 4th quarter, Utah's hyper-athletic bigs seemed to get a little tired, while the Celtics got their 2nd and 3rd winds — and hustled the Jazz out of the building. Cs also made shots, got some lucky bounces and some helpful calls.

We would be remiss if we didn't mention the refs. For the first time this season, the officiating helped the Celtics significantly in the game as a whole. Of the 6 referee errors noted, only 1 helped Utah. Jazz fans can legitimately complain. (But if they ask, just point them to the umpteen times the Cs have been screwed over by the refs' mistakes this season. Lemme know if you need a list...) 

Way it goes.

I just wish Tommy Heinsohn wouldn't go around saying this was a "well-officiated game." And please don't call an OBVIOUS hard foul by Amir a "great block." (First entry in Referees section below.) It's embarrassing. And imo, it insults the audience. There's gotta be a limit to homerism somewhere; can't lose your grip on reality.

Btw — Jordan Micky played for ~7 minutes in the first half and did a GREAT JOB defending the theretofore-dominant Jazz bigs. That's really what allowed the Cs to start making up ground after their horrible start.

Here are some details on the game, and where the club stands now...
The Block... a beautiful thing

Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Utah Jazz – Feb 29 2016:


Cs’ Offensive Rating for this complete game = 104.7 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #20 offense in the NBA this season. But it was much worse in the early going....
  • In Q1, the Cs' Offensive Rating was 91.6 — equivalent to worse than the league's worst offense this season.
  • Over the first 3 quarters combined, BOS' Offensive Rating was 97.5 — an improvement over Q1, but still worse than league worst this season.
  • In the 4th quarter, the Celtics' Offensive Rating leaped to a sick 130.3 — equivalent to far, far higher than league best this season (Warriors: 114.4).
  • Prior to this game, UTA's defense was rated #8 in the league (Def.Rtg. = 103.3) — solid.
  • For the complete game, Utah's D performed at a level equivalent to the NBA's #11 defense (Def.Rtg. = 104.7).
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this complete game = 99.5 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #2 defense this season. Once again, this was a tale of 3 quarters plus the 4th....
  • In Q1, the Cs' Defensive Rating was 115.5 — equivalent to dead last in the NBA this season.
  • Over the first 3 quarters combined, BOS' Defensive Rating was 98.9 — equivalent to #2 in the NBA (which of course means it was GREAT in Q2 and Q3 — to compensate for the very bad Q1).
  • In the 4th quarter, the Celtics' Defensive Rating was 102.4 — equivalent to #4 in the NBA this season.
  • Coming into this game, UTA's offense was rated #26 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 103.5) — weak. (Didn't look weak in this game!)
  • For the complete game, the Cs' D held UTA's O to a level equivalent to the NBA's #29 offense (Off.Rtg. = 99.5).
Pace: Each team had 96 possessions – slower than the Cs' season average (98.7 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.7/game.

Referees: Grade: C. Observations: The crew of David Jones (#36), Matt Boland (#18) and Zach Zarba (#15) decided early that they were just not going to call a lot of fouls. Generally, that's great. Most fans prefer that kind of game. But the officiating has to be CONSISTENT. You can't change it in the middle. These refs weren't horribly inconsistent — we've seen much worse — but they were inconsistent enough to earn the C grade. (Especially Zarba.)

As noted, of the 6 officiating errors we observed, 5 benefitted the Celtics, 1 helped the Jazz.
  • At ~3:22 of the 1st quarter, Amir Johnson "blocked" a Rudy Gobert shot attempt at the rim (described by Tommy Henisohn on-air as a "great block by Johnson") — but it was an obvious hard foul across the arms. The replay was clear as could be. No call. Here's the video clip, which includes the better-angle slow-motion replay. Now compare this to the next play....
  • At ~5:06 of the 2nd quarter, ref Zach Zarba (#15) whistled Shelvin Mack for fouling Marcus Smart. Why? He lightly grazed Marcus' arm on a pass. Smh. So this is a foul, but 3:22-Q1 (above) is not? Nuts. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~11:20 of the 3rd quarter, Shelvin Mack was whistled for fouling Isaiah Thomas. Replay showed NO contact. Isaiah knew it, Mack knew it, viewers at home knew it. Ref Zach Zerba apparently did not. Here's the NBA-provided video clip.
  • At ~5:58 of Q3, Gobert was whistled for a loose-ball foul on Jared Sullinger. (Mike and Tommy said it was Favors called for the foul: that was incorrect.) On review, no discernible foul could be found. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~6:00 of the 4th quarter, Gobert was fouled by Marcus Smart, while Gobert had his back to the basket and wasn't dreaming of shooting yet. Somehow, he went to the line for two free throws. (Boston was definitely not over the limit yet.) Huh? This was a crazy-bad referee mistake. There is no way in hell that foul was in the act of shooting. (It was called by Zarba, again. Umm — time for some retraining, Zach?) Here's the video clip.
  • At ~0:16 of Q4, with the game still in question, Amir Johnson managed to get a key rebound after an Avery Bradley missed free throw. That rebound actually iced the game for the Cs, as the Jazz were then forced to foul again, etc. Problem with the call: Amir badly fouled Rudy Gobert while going for the ball — grabbed his neck and arm and pushed him out of the way, right in front of the sideline ref. No call. Here's the video clip provided by the NBA (which unfortunately does not include the slow-mo side-angle replay which clearly showed the foul).
Note: The video clips linked to here are provided by the NBA. They are not always optimal. 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.
It's good to win, absolutely. But personally, I don't like winning with undue help from the refs. It stinks when it works against our team, and it still stinks when it helps. Just be fair, and consistent. That's all we ask.


Where do the Celtics stand now?


After the Jazz game...
  • Offensive Rating = 106.8 — # 9 in NBA. (Range: #9–#10 in a tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 102.9 — # 4 in NBA. (Range: #2–#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:

  • One mark of a great team is being able to win games it's supposed to lose. A good example was Saturday's Warriors-Thunder game, which GSW was supposed to lose through almost all of regulation; OKC seemed unstoppable. But the Dubs found a way to win… just like the Cs did Monday evening. It takes guts, stamina, determination, confidence and yeah, talent. Warriors have all that in spades (especially talent, obviously). The Celtics have it too.
  • Does that mean Cs = Dubs? No... that would be ridiculous. But they're in the same zip code — to the extent any team is.
    • In their last 5 contests, the Celts have averaged an Offensive Rating of 110.1 (~equivalent to #4 in the NBA), and a Defensive Rating of 102.2 (~equivalent to #3). These are elite-level numbers.
    • But the 2/22 Minnesota game was marred by awful officiating, so it's interesting to see what happens if we remove it from the calculation: In the remaining games, the Cs averaged an Offensive Rating of 108.2 (equivalent to #6 in the league), and a Defensive Rating of 97.7 — which would be the best defense in the NBA if it were a season mark!
  • The trend is getting very clear: The Celtics are getting back to their defensive roots.
    • In the stretch from ~January 10 (when the offense started taking off) until after the Feb 19 Utah game, Boston's defense declined dramatically — from a Def.Rtg. of 100.5 (equivalent to #2 in NBA), to 105.6 (~#15) within that ~6-week span.
    • Now the Cs are finally getting their defensive mojo back.
  • Of course, Avery Bradley's block at the end (0:20 Q4) was heroic. But everyone contributed to this win (including and especially Jordan Mickey in his first-half 7 minutes, when he was the only C able to slow down Trey Lyles, among other things). The Cs' record 13 blocks in this game were compiled by 9 different players (every active player except IT). Great job, great comeback, by all.
  • Portland's next, on Wednesday 3/2. Their season Off.Rtg. is #6 in the NBA, Def.Rtg. #19. But the Blazers have been super-hot lately: Their last-15 Offensive Rating is equivalent to #5 in the league, and their last-15 Defensive Rating is ~#7. Tough team. Should be fun.

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: Taylor Snow

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