At the beginning of the 4th quarter last night, as the Celtics were imploding on both ends of the floor, I was conversing with my buddy JRo about the C’s struggles. The two of us like to go back and forth with numbers that stick out to us during the game. JRo mentioned Perk had only 4 rebounds at this point, which was concerning. After Ray Allen hit a big 3, I angrily pointed out that he only had taken 6 shots at that juncture and the C’s needed to go to him more. Things like that.
In any case, the C’s had some pretty miserable stretches during this game, and the two of us were trying to unearth why. The turnovers were the painful and obvious cause, as were the offensive rebounds allowed to the Heat. Both of these factors combined to give Miami 31 more shots than Boston as Zach Lowe pointed out in his recap. Brutal numbers right there.
It was more than those two factors that were bothering me though in the 3rd quarter and early part of the 4th, as the C’s squandered an 8 point lead and fell behind by 11. They had been turning the ball over all game, but just now had seemed to lose all momentum out of nowhere. To me, the real problem stemmed from the team appearing to have no flow offensively. The ball that had been moving around the perimeter and into the post so seamlessly in the 1st half had vanished.
A look at the box score at the 8 minute mark in the 4th quarter last night, confirmed my suspicions. The Celtics had only 12 assists! That might as well sound off a four alarm fire if you are a Celtics fan, but it explained a lot about the team’s performance to that point.
So after the game, I decided to investigate the play by play to decipher how the C’s assist number could have been that low 40 minutes into the game, after they had put together such a nice 1st half with 57 points? Some quick research after the game gave me the answer. The Celtics ball movement had pretty much stopped all together.
One assist in 16 minutes. That’s what the C’s offense had put together in the first 16 minutes of the 2nd half last night. Not coincidentally, the team only scored a putrid 21 points in those 16:33, as their 8 point lead vanished to an 11 point deficit when Doc Rivers called time out with 7:33 left in the game.
Now to give you an idea of just how important assists are to the C’s I did some research. We all know they are one of the most unselfish teams in the league, but I think we fail to realize just how important to the C’s game assists are.
The Celtics rank 2nd in the league in assists per game with 24 per game only behind Utah who has an astounding 25.7 per game. I would have expected to see Phoenix up top, but the kings of run and gun basketball are 3rd behind the C’s.
Unsurprisingly, the C’s average more assists in their wins (24.6) than their losses (22). A number that was shocking to me though, was how big the assist discrepancy was in the team’s home/road splits. Boston averages 26.3 assists at home and only 22 on the road. So the passing problems they had in Miami have been a characteristic of this team all year long away from The Garden.
What’s the reason for this you ask? I couldn’t tell you offhand. On the road, it seems like The C’s go through spurts where they get out of rhythm, rush into shots and rely on themselves in the isolation game a bit too much. That sort of play led to their losses in Los Angeles and Phoenix last week, with 21 and 18 assists in those games respectively.
Luckily, last night, the team’s unselfish play and sharp ball movement returned once the C’s returned to the floor after Doc’s timeout. I won’t rehash the game’s concluding moments, but just know that on the C’s final 8 baskets in regulation, 6 of those were assisted, with Paul Pierce saving the best one for last.
So take note Celtics fans of this team’s passing, as it usually is just as big of an indicator of whether this team will win as the turnovers or rebounding problems that we all worry about.