Pace: 85 possessions (ultra-slow)
Offensive Efficiency: 112 points/100 possessions (elite)
Defensive Efficiency: 118.6 points allowed/100 possessions (bloody awful)
Some bullet points to tide you over until a full recap and analysis:
• I was imagining a casual Orlando or Cleveland fan tuning into this game and saying to themselves, “Well, I can’t take either of these two teams seriously. One of them switches on every single screen/roll, creating awful mismatches the opponent can exploit. The other team turns the ball over on 20 percent of its possessions. And one of these teams is going to beat us in the playoffs?”
In other words: A fun game, but not a particularly well-played one by either team and one that exposed a potentially fatal flaw in each.
• A monster game from Joe Johnson—36 points on 14-of-25, and he beat every type of defense the C’s threw at him, though I can live with some of the ultra-tough shots he made in this game. But he had an answer for everything. Ray Allen cannot guard him, and the C’s resorted to traps and semi-traps (sliding a defender over to Johnson’s side of the court). Nothing worked, but Joe made tough shots. Can he do it again?
• The Celtics should never shoot 55 percent in a game and lose. Never. Since KG and Ray Allen arrived here, the C’s have hit the 55 percent mark 24 times, according to Basketball Reference. Their record after tonight’s loss? 21-3.
You want to know what all three of those games have in common? Here are the turnover figures for the C’s: 20, 19, 17. (Note: The 17 is from tonight, and it may not be accurate. At this very moment, three box scores I’m looking at—ESPN, CBS Sports and Yahoo!—all have different turnover figures, and each of them are lower than the turnover numbers Mike Gorman was rattling off during the game. I’m going with 17 as a middle ground).
• Tommy Heinsohn spent the entire game complaining about the officials, at one point urging Gorman, “Stroke me!” because he needed something to soothe his temper. (Ahem). Sure, there were a few key questionable calls. The flagrant on Big Baby was a bad call, but not so bad as to merit three technical fouls on the C’s coaching staff. I’ll repeat: It was a bad call. But when the refs see a defender reach across a fast-breaking player’s shoulders and head, make some contact and force that player to the ground? You’ll get a flagrant once in a while.
Yes, the Hawks had a 33-18 edge in attempts at the line. And yes, Jamal Crawford kicked Rajon Rondo on a desperation corner three with the score tied at 96-96 at the 2:14 mark of the 4th quarter, drawing a dubious foul on Rondo.
But you know why the Celtics really lost the free throw battle so decisively tonight? They turned the ball over (at least) 17 times, compared to just seven TOs for the Hawks. That’s 10 more chances to go to the rim and draw contact for the Hawks, and 10 opportunities for Boston to do the same frittered away.
• Perk: Four traveling calls in one game. Four. This cannot happen. Three of them were totally unforced, and one, just before halftime, occurred when Perk had freed himself (via a pump fake) for what should have been an uncontested lay-in. But Perk wanted the dunk and took an extra step to get it. He took steps another time backing down Joe Johnson. A guard.
Six turnovers overall for Perk, and that is about four too many for a center in the NBA with a relatively low-risk offensive game. Turnovers have been Perk’s biggest problem on offense, and he had them under control until about 10 games ago.
• Al Horford must be damn, damn strong, because Perk couldn’t back him down easily tonight. Horford looks like he’s giving up 30 pounds to Perk, but he held his ground on the block. Perk finished 3-of-7 from the floor, the first time he has hit fewer than 50 percent of his shots in a game since Nov. 14, a span of 24 games.
• You know the real shame of those turnovers? Despite them, the C’s still put up nearly 113 points per 100 possessions on offense, a mark that would nearly lead the league. For the first 36 minutes or so of the game, the C’s did a wonderful job of taking advantage of Atlanta’s switch-happy defense.
And the credit for that goes mostly to Rajon Rondo, who had yet to assert himself against Atlanta (and Mike Bibby) this season. He did so tonight: 26-7 for Rajon, and he was just dominant early in the game. Between his 11 points and four dimes (three on three-pointers), Rondo accounted for 22 of the C’s first 29 points and was destroying the Hawks with one good decision after another.
When Atlanta switched a big guy onto him on ball screens, Rondo drove right by and created for himself in the paint. When Bibby stayed with him and the Hawks didn’t switch, Rondo blew by him for easy hoops. And when the switches created a more favorable match-up for a teammate (i.e. a guard defending Perk or a smaller guy like Jamal Crawford guarding Pierce), Rondo found the appropriate match-up.
• You know what’s interesting about the Atlanta defense? The switches create match-ups so tempting that the offense grinds to a halt trying to exploit them. I thought this really hurt Boston in the 2nd half, when the team attempted just 28 shots—which I believe represents the C’s season low for a half in ’09-10. The C’s ran a bit in the first half and got some good transition looks as a result. The game slowed in the 2nd half, and the C’s become obsessed with pounding the ball inside to Perk or Glen Davis.
The strategy produced results—the C’s shot 14-of-28 in the half, and Perk, Davis and Pierce all created positive results in isolations.
But in a bizarre way, the Hawks switcheroo defense took the C’s away from what Boston does best.
• It’s time to stop booing Mike Bibby in Boston. He played just 17:55 tonight and does not merit such attention.
• Speaking of minutes: Brian Scalabrine played just 4:47 of the 2nd half. Tony Allen, Eddie House and Shelden Williams didn’t get off the bench in the 2nd half.
The result? At least 42 minutes each for Rondo, Pierce, Perk and Ray.
I love Tom Thibodeau. Love him. I ranked the C’s hiring of Thibs as one of the team’s 10 best personnel moves of the last decade. But riding the starters (and Baby) like this in a regular season game….it’s just not necessary.
• Last week, I wrote about how horribly Scal had been playing this season, so tonight I tip my hat: 9 points (3-of-4 shooting, including 3-of-3 from deep), 5 boards and some very respectable defense on Josh Smith (!), almost all of it in the first half.
Consider this: Scal had scored 8 points combined in his last 14 games dating to December 8th! He hadn’t scored a point since Christmas! He hadn’t pulled down five boards in a game all season!
Scal needed this, and I’m happy for him. In the first half, I counted eight possessions in which Atlanta isolated for Josh Smith at various places on the court. Those eight isolations produced 1-of-5 shooting, one drawn foul (Smith made 1-of-2 FTs) and two kick outs to Atlanta players, neither of which resulted in a field goal (but one of which resulted in a shooting foul).
Scal’s performance tonight was proof that a huge part of defense in the NBA is positioning your body in the right way.
• My favorite play of the game: The C’s drew a switch on a screen/roll with about to 8:00 to go in the 3rd, with Marvin Williams switching onto Rondo on the right wing. Rajon attacked immediately, driving right, then spinning left into the paint, and then—watch the tape!—rising up for a lefty lay-up he made easily.
Holy crap. If he starts to do things like that, the league is in trouble. (And he backed down Mike Bibby in the post on one possession, drawing a foul. He scored on someone—Jarrett Jack?—in the post Sunday against Toronto. Watch out).
• My other favorite sequence: Right after the flagrant on Baby, Heinsohn was wondering how the Celtics would respond. It was a test of their mettle, a time when you expect the vets to come through. What happened? Perk rejected Crawford on a gorgeous help-defense block, and Rondo raced down the court for a transition lay-in.
The kids are all grown up. They were the ones that responded to an in-game setback.
• That’s it for tonight. I am cranky, and I will not acknowledge Jamal Crawford’s performance down the stretch with anything but a remark about the possibility that he is going to owe Satan something big after this season.