When I checked the box score from Saturday’s game against Memphis, the first number I looked for (somewhat unusually) was how many turnovers the Celtics had forced. As Kelly Dwyer noted after the Heat game last week, the Celtics had forced just 14 turnovers in two combined games (including one that went into overtime). Dwyer wrote that the trend “doesn’t bode well for Boston.” Then on Friday, the C’s forced just eight turnovers against San Antonio, the third straight game in which an opponent coughed it up fewer than 10 times. That had never even happened twice in a row since Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett arrived.
Is there a trend here? Kind of. The C’s are forcing fewer turnovers this season-14.6 per game, down from about 16.1 last season. And the numbers have gotten worse lately. In games after the halfway mark of the season, C’s opponents are turning it over just 12.4 times per game–a number that would rank 28th in the NBA were it the Celtics’ season-long average. (See the C’s game log for the game-by-game stats).
Put another way: The C’s have forced 15 or more TOs in 28 games this season, but only seven since the midway point of the campaign. (They forced 15 or more 44 times last season, so they’re going to miss that mark by a lot).
Is there reason to worry? Maybe. That 12.4 per game number scares me, since turnovers both prove the defense is at its best and produce easy baskets on offense. But there are mitigating factors. The obvious one is the spate of injuries, especially the knee strain that took out the C’s best havoc-creator (KG) for a month. As the bench got thinner, maybe Doc and Tom Thibodeau urged the remaining players to dial the risk-taking back a bit on defense to avoid foul trouble. Maybe the healthy guys just didn’t attack as much because they were tired from playing more minutes.
(One caveat: The Celtics forced 15.9 turnovers per game during a the nine-game stretch KG missed last season, basically maintaining their average).
Another possible factor: The Celtics’ recent schedule has been loaded with teams that take care of the ball very well. Between KGs injury and the Grizz game, the C’s played 14 games, six of which were against teams in the top 10 in terms of turnover rate–Detroit, San Antonio, New Jersey, Cleveland and two against Miami. (Detroit, San Antonio and Miami, in fact, are the best three teams in the league in this category, according to Basketball Reference).
Still, any way you spin the numbers, the Celtics aren’t forcing as many mistakes this season. (Twenty turnover games? Nine this year, 15 last season. Single-digit turnover games? Already eight this season–seven of which have come since Jan. 29–after just six all of last year. Interestingly, four of those six games were against Detroit and New Orleans, the best two teams at avoiding TOs last season.)
So…is there a problem? I don’t know. I was happy to see the Grizz turn it over 15 times Saturday night (though this is the Grizz, remember), and it’s a number I’ll be watching the rest of the way.