I was especially looking forward to last night’s Philadelphia game because I wanted to see how the Celtics performed against a team that tries (at least without Elton Brand) to push the pace.
Though the Sixers are a middle-of-the-road pace team according to Basketball Reference, just about everyone agrees that:
- They’re much better when they run
- They run more with Brand on the bench.
It’s also conventional wisdom that one way to beat a great halfcourt defensive team is not to let them get their halfcourt defense set up in the first place. In other words, RUN!
At first glance, the C’s would seem to prove this theorem: Five of their nine losses this season were against the top five pace factor teams in the league (Denver, Indiana, New York, Golden State and the Lakers). Does this mean the Celtics are vulnerable to teams that play quickly?
It’s actually hard to tell. When you look at the scores of those games, you see only one team (Golden State) reached the 100 point mark against the Celtics, while the others scored mostly in the low- to mid-90s. That suggests the Celtics, somehow, are getting teams to play at their league-average pace.
New stats from Basketball Prospectus seem to bear this out; the C’s are 18th in pace factor and their opponents’ overall pace factor ranks 19th in the league.
(Side note: This seems to hold true for all teams over the course of a season. Indiana is third in pace factor, and their opponents’ pace factor is third-fastest, and Denver is fourth in both categories. It would be fascinating to see which teams are most likely to control the pace in games between fast- and slow-paced teams. UPDATE: We just had a duh! moment courtesy of the guys at True Hoop, who pointed out that the pace factor for a team and its opponent will always look identical because they, you know, alternate possessions. Our Calculus teacher father would not be proud of this oversight. TH says we need a new speed-measuring metric and helpfully suggests one using the time elapsed on the shot clock before it resets for any reason).
But is it possible that teams that play quickly somehow create a sloppier game even when they don’t lure the Celtics into a track meet? That seemed to happen last night, when the Sixers forced 19 turnovers, most of which happened during first half stretches when Brand was on the bench and the Sixers were pressing all over the the court like UNLV in the early 1990s.
The C’s average 15.7 turnovers per game and committed more TOs than that in four of those five losses against the fast-paced teams (24 against Indiana, 17 each against the Lakers and Denver, 23 against the Warriors and a much more responsible 13 against the Knicks). Maybe these teams really do give them trouble…
Want to be even more confused? According to 82games, the Celtics four other losses have come againstthe tortoise teams near the bottom of the pace factor rankings (Charlotte, Houston, Cleveland and Portland). The Celtics, in other words, are undefeated against teams that play at their speed and a “pedestrian” 25-9 against teams at the pace extremes.
Does this mean anything? I’m skeptical, but I leave the answer to the experts.