Pace: 86 possessions (very slow)
Offensive Efficiency: 122 points/100 possessions (league-leading)
Defensive Effiienccy: 100 points allowed/100 possessions (league-leading)
Earlier this week, I asked the question: Can the Celtics be a contending team if they rate poorly in three of the Four Factors on offense—offensive rebounding, turnovers and getting to the foul line? The answer: Hell yes, if they pass (30 assists on 41 baskets), shoot (53 percent from the floor) and play defense like they did tonight in humbling a semi-depleted Jazz team that had no answer for anything the C’s did offensively. The C’s played with their usual bad habits—15 turnovers in a slow game, only six offensive boards through the first three quarters and 18 total free throws. And still: 105 points on 86 possessions.
This was a surgical, efficient performance which saw no Celtic play more than 32 minutes. KG sat the entire 4th quarter, Pierce the last 10:11.
It’s not exciting to watch, but this is exactly what a Celtic fan should be hoping to see (with the exception of allowing 17 offensive boards) in November home games against banged up teams like Utah, who played Deron Williams despite his aching back and played without Kyle Korver, Ronnie Price and C.J. Miles.
Before we move on, I have to mention an early candidate for stat of the year. The Celtics held Utah to an 0-fer from three-point range tonight, the second time they’ve done that in 9 games this season. You know how many times that happened in all of last season league-wide? Twelve. Twelve times in 1,230 regular season games, or once every 100 games. And the C’s have already done it twice in nine games this season. Throw in the fact that the C’s have had games in which they’ve allowed two, two and one three-pointer, and you’ve got five games in which the C’s have allowed five three-pointers combined. That’s just sick perimeter defense.
Overall, teams are shooting 42-140 from deep—30 percent, a mark that would have led the league last season by a huge margin.
The C’s have made a commitment to chasing teams off the three-point line at all costs, even if it means allowing the occasional open mid-range J. And it’s working ridiculously well.
Of course, Utah really only had two three-point shooters in the line-up last night (a gimpy Williams and a totally ineffective Memo Okur), so limiting them from deep is no great shakes. But zero threes allowed? That’s fantastic, against any team. The C’s handled the Williams screen/roll (with Rondo mostly going over the screens) without yielding either easy penetration or clean perimeter looks.
More on Utah, after the jump.
The C’s scored the equivalent of 122 points per 100 possessions tonight, a fantastically efficient performance in what was an incredibly slow-paced game by 2009-10 NBA standards. The C’s are crawling this year, which is probably making Tommy Heinsohn angry even it’s working fairly well. They came into this game playing the 4th-slowest pace in the league (about 91 possessions per game), and they played even slower (86 possessions tonight) even though Utah came in averaging a pace slightly above league average.
Nine games in, I wonder if this is intentional. The C’s haven’t been a fast team the last two seasons, but they’ve hung around league average. They’ve opened this season playing the same pace as ’09 even as the rest of the league has opened playing faster.
In any case, the C’s had everything working offensively tonight. They attacked the 6’8” Paul Millsap in the post no matter whether he was guarding Perk, Sheed or KG, and they generally got good looks or drew fouls. They went to Perk often, knowing Utah has nobody that can push him away from the basket. Perk and KG shot 11-20 combined and 6-6 from the line, including 4-4 for KG, which at this point is cause for celebration—a reaffirmation that KG can still attack the bucket when the situation calls for it.
When the C’s weren’t pounding the post, they did whatever else they wanted. Ray on the curl? Sure—6-8 from the floor for 15 super-efficient points. The Pierce/KG screen/roll on the left side? KG had open mid-range looks off of that play all night. A pick-and-pop with Rondo and KG at the top of the key? More easy jumpers. You had the feeling the Celtics could have gotten an open look any time they wanted.
Part of that is on the Jazz, a mediocre defensive club. But part of that is crisp, efficient offense. The hoopla is about the defense, as it should be. That should be there just about every night. When the offense is there too, watch out.
• Welcome back, Bill Walker.
• You know what I love about basketball? Perk seemed more excited about that Rondo-KG alley-oop dunk than KG did. It picked up the entire team. They went crazy. Chemistry is real. The KG Effect is real.
• We had Perk and Sheed on the court for 2:10 in the 2nd quarter, a rare occurrence. None of Sheed’s 10 most commons line-ups include Perk, and Sheed has played all but a tiny percentage of his minutes so far this season have been as the team’s center, according to 82games. The 2:10 was a wash—both teams scored a single basket.
• Ok, the 17 offensive rebounds for Utah. I’m willing to chalk this up to bad luck, a bad match-up and a few lazy plays. Seventeen ORBs is too many, but Utah is a good offensive rebounding team (5th in offensive rebounding rate last season) and they’ve got the type of players who give Boston’s interior guys problems—quick movers with young-ish legs and a willingness to crash the boards. Let’s face it, at this point in their careers, KG and Sheed are great defensive rebounders—and they are—because of their smarts more than their athleticism or speed. Younger guys with some combination of springs, long arms, bulk and meanness are going to give them problems.
And when Deron Williams gets in the lane and misses an interior shot, you’re going to yield a few offensive boards to a good rebounding team. It happens.
I watched video of all 17 of those Utah offensive boards, and only two or three were the result of damnable defensive breakdowns. (The worst occurred early in the 4th, when Marquis Daniels just stood in no-man’s land in the mid-paint and watched the rebound as his man, Kirilenko, streaked in from the behind the three-point line for a put-back. Bad stuff).
There’s no reason for concern. This is not a trend. The C’s came into this game 4th in defensive rebounding after finishing 3rd last season. Let’s move along.
• It appears Peanut Butter Jelly Time is becoming a 2nd quarter fixture at the Garden. Please tell me they play the original video on the scoreboard. I want to know.
• I liked Doc’s substitution patterns early tonight. He inserted Daniels for Ray with 3:54 left in the 1st, and he’s been getting either Pierce or Allen out much earlier in the 1st this season than in the past. Both have averaged about 11 minutes of playing time in the 1st quarter the past two seasons. It’s good to experiment with this kind of thing early, I think.
• Under-rated thing that Perk has improved: His interior passing. It seems like Perk has been around forever, but he only just turned 25 on Tuesday (happy birthday, big fella), and he’s still got room to grow. There was one sequence late in the 2nd when Pierce passed up a three-pointer and zipped a pass to Perk, who had great position with his back to the basket a few feet from the hoop. Perk immediately touched a pass out to KG for a wide-open look from about 18 feet. It was a subtle, quick pass, one Perk probably couldn’t have executed as well last season. Good for Perk.
• Sheed continues to jack up the threes at an unbelievable rate. He took seven tonight in 21 minutes. I’ll have more on this in the Daily Dime on ESPN.com tomorrow, so I won’t say much here. He’s now 19-57 from three—just 33 percent. Somehow he is getting away with this. Normally a big guy jacking seven 6.5 threes per game and making just 33 percent of them would be getting killed. (We’ve seen this guy before; his name is Antoine Walker). But Sheed seems to have a free pass, and if you watch the film, you can find evidence that his presence on the court changes the way the defense plays.
It’s not just an empty cliche—that his presence “opens up the paint.” It’s true. That doesn’t necessarily mean he should be taking 6.5 threes a game if he can’t get that percentage up a bit. But it does mean 33 percent isn’t quite a catastrophe.
• Rondo Jumper Watch: 0-1. Eh. There was one offensive sequence I really liked with Rajon: With about a minute to go in the 3rd, Rondo took a screen to his right from Sheed near the top of the key, turned the corner and got into the paint. He rose up about eight feet from the rim surrounded by three Jazz players, none of whom had any chance to block a Rajon floater. He had Ronnie Brewer behind him on his left him, Kyrylo Fesenko directly to his left, and Carlos Boozer helping off of Shelden Williams to his right.
Rondo usually passes here, so often that I think it damages the team a bit. Interior players defenders anticipate the pass, so they don’t dive at Rondo aggressively, and as a result, they can get back in good position once Rondo dumps the ball off to their guy. So I expected Rondo to dump the ball to Shelden Williams on his right. So did Boozer. If you watch the film closely, you’ll see Boozer shift his weight to his left—toward Shelden—as Rondo jumps. Had Rondo dished, Boozer would have recovered to contest the shot.
But Rondo shot the ball instead and rolled it in. I love it, and I want more of it.