Celtics make true believers of us all / Green Trends

The refs decided to let-em-play, so the Celtics and Blazers on Wednesday happily obliged. They went at it in the Garden — to the delight (and occasional frustration) of both sets of fans — like it was a playground game through most of the first half. Neither D could stop the other's O very effectively. Shootout.

But the Celtics always have an extra defensive gear they can go to, and go to it they did in the second half — blowing Portland completely out of the game in the third quarter, and handing them only their second loss in 11 games (first in their last 4).

The difference in Defensive Rating between the 1st two quarters and the 3rd is the most marked we've seen all season. Or maybe ever. Mind-boggling. (Details below.)

Portland is no pushover. This is a good team, playing great basketball lately: In their last 15 games, they've compiled a top-3 Offensive Rating and a top-9 Defensive Rating. (Only 5 teams in the NBA currently have both offense and defense in the top-10 for the season: GSW, SAS, CLE, LAC, BOS.) But the Blazers were no match for the Cs. This was a blowout, and garbage time came early for POR (Q4 ~7:45).

If you were ye of little faith, this game should make you a true believer. Now if anyone asks, "How can the Celtics beat the league's best teams?" — you can point and say: "They're showing us how, game after game."

The Celtics wear teams down. 

When they go to their highest defensive gear, this team is like a whirling, swirling green cloud of coverage. It starts to look like they have more than 5 guys on the court. I mean, they're everywhere at once.

Opponents can only withstand that kind of pressure for so long. THAT'S how the Celtics can beat the league's best teams.

Now I hear you wondering if the Warriors are included here. No — I think we have to exclude GSW; they're in their own category of greatness right now. — But they're not guaranteed to stay there. Anything can happen between now and June. We'll revisit the question when... if.... the time comes.

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


Cs' Off. & Def. Efficiency Ratings vs. Portland – Mar 2 2016:


We never quit...
Cs’ Offensive Rating for this complete game = 121.4 (pts scored per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the #1 offense in the NBA this season.
  • In the 1st quarter, the Cs' Offensive Rating was a sizzling 122.7 — easily equivalent to #1 in the league. (Yeah, but POR's Off.Rtg. was an even-better #1-equivalent: 135.0.)
  • By halftime, BOS' Offensive Rating was even higher: 128.7. (Portland stayed in range in the first half, with an Off.Rtg. of 116.1.)
  • In the 3rd quarter, the Celts offense climbed higher still — to 131.0 — but it was the defense that made it a blowout. (See below.)
  • Prior to this game, POR's defense was rated #18 in the league for the season-to-date (Def.Rtg. = 106.4) — ~average. But…..
  • In their last 15 games, the Blazers have averaged a Def.Rtg. equivalent to 3rd-best in the NBA. They've been very hot lately, especially on defense.
  • For the complete game, POR's D performed at a level equivalent to the NBA's #30 defense (Def.Rtg. = 121.4).
Cs’ Defensive Rating for this complete game = 97.3 (pts allowed per 100 possessions) — equivalent to the league's #1 defense this season. The difference between the first half and Q3 was incredible...
  • In Q1, the Cs' Defensive Rating was 135.0 — equivalent to worst in the league by far.
  • By halftime, BOS' Defensive Rating improved to 116.1 — more respectable but still bad.
  • Then came the 3rd quarter, when the Green demolished POR with a Defensive Rating of 52.4! The Cs' D went from league-worst to a level that's almost twice as efficient as the best defense in the NBA! Wow.
  • Coming into this game, the Blazers' offense was rated #7 in the league (Off.Rtg. = 108.1) — strong.
  • For the complete game, the Cs' D held POR's O to a level equivalent to the NBA's #30 offense (Off.Rtg. = 97.3).
Pace: Each team had 96 possessions – slower than the Cs' season average (98.7 – #3 in NBA). League average = 95.7/game.

Referees: Grade: A. Observations: The crew of Tony Brothers (#25), Eli Roe (#44) and Mark Ayotte (#56) decided that they were going to let-em-play, and they STUCK with that decision through the entire game (with a couple of minor exceptions). Yes, a LOT of fouls went unwhistled. But the cool thing was that they treated both teams equally. That's the key to all good officiating. Be CONSISTENT. If only all games were called like this.

Actually.... not exactly. It's not important for the refs to 'let em play.' It's okay if/when they call the game tighter. The key is, and always will be, CONSISTENCY. Whatever you do, do it equally on both sides, and don't change your calling style in the middle of the game. Do that and fans will love you. Do it not and you will never be loved.

Only one of the following is an actual error. The other is just a bit of inconsistency.
  • At ~3:09 of the 2nd quarter, a foul call on Isaiah was the first time the refs were inconsistent. There was possibly a kind of foul there — a touch, maybe, sorta — but the call was completely out of place in a game where they were lettin em play. Here's the video clip.
  • At ~0:36 of Q2 came the first (and only) noted outright-bad foul call of the night, on Sullinger. (Gerald Henderson kicked his legs out while rebounding. If anything, he could have been called for a foul — certainly not Sully.) Here's the video clip.
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.
What a pleasure this game was. On this night, Tony Brothers is/was The Man.


Where do the Celtics stand now?


Season-to-date, after the Blazers game...
  • Offensive Rating = 107.0 — # 9 in NBA. (Range: #8–#10 in a tight group.)
  • Defensive Rating = 102.5 — # 3 in NBA. (Range: #2–#4 in a very tight group.)
  • Net Rating = +4.5 — # 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.

Here are the Offensive Opponent-Adusted Ratings (OARs) for the Cs' last 15 games:

As you can see, the trend line (green) is not climbing acutely anymore, but it still has a small positive slope — indicating that the Cs' offense has been improving a little (relative to the strengths of the defenses they've faced), but it's approaching steady state.

Next are the Defensive OARs for the Cs' last 15 games:

The trend line here is clearly improving. (Remember, with defensive ratings lower is better.) This indicates the Cs' defense has improved significantly over their last 15 games, relative to the strengths of the offenses they've faced.

As we'll see in the Notes section (below), the Celtics are playing at an elite level these days. These graphs indicate that they're actually still getting better.
  • Remember that OARs are adjusted to reflect the strength of the opponents faced. It doesn't much matter if those opponents were elite or not. OARs measure how much better (or worse) the Cs performed than they should have — based on the known strengths of each opponent's offense and defense.


Notes & Ruminations:

  • This was Portland's 4th game in 5 nights on the road. (They won the first three vs. CHI, IND, NYK.) Maybe they just wore out in the second half. — But that's the thing about the Celtics: they wear teams down. That's their secret weapon — part of their core identity, actually.
  • The Celts' regular rotation players — everyone but the rooks — committed a grand total of 4 turnovers in the whole game. Three came in the 1st quarter, and then ZERO for the rest of the game until garbage time. Wow.
  • Some tasty statistical snacks:
    • We know that the offense changed dramatically as of January 10 (Memphis game). In the 26 games the Cs have played since then, they've generated an average Offensive Rating of 111.3 — equivalent to #3 in the NBA.
    • The defense declined markedly as the offense rocketed after January 10. But the Cs have refocused on defense over their last ~6 games. In those 6 games, their average Defensive Rating has been 101.4 — equivalent to #2 in the NBA. (Also in that span, their Net Rating has averaged +10.5: equivalent to #3.)

      Note: We're including the 2/22 Minnesota game in the last-6 data, because it happened. But it was a referee-ruined game. If it were removed from the calculation, the Cs' Def.Rtg. would average 97.7 in that span — equivalent to #1 in the NBA.
  • Bottom line:
    • The Cs have gotten their elite defense back.
    • The offense remains on fire.
    • The Celtics are playing elite basketball right now.
    • The playoffs are 20 games away. And anything is possible.
  • Knicks are next on Friday, then its the Cavs in Cleveland on Saturday. Are we having fun yet?! 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: Barry Chin / Globe

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