I just finished watching last night’s debacle in full and honestly it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I think the hardest part of this contest, is that you could feel the collapse coming. In fact, Celtics play by play man Mike Gorman acknowledged on the air halfway through the 2nd quarter that he had a bad feeling about this one.
Given that the C’s were up 44-38 at this juncture, that could have been a surprising revelation, but sure enough it was directly on point. The Pistons had been killing the C’s on the boards all first half long, (21-13) and despite shooting well over 50 percent and forcing 13 1st half turnovers, Boston was still clinging to a single digit lead.
It was only going to take one spark to get the Pistons going in this game and that moment came at the 7 minute mark of the 3rd quarter, when The Palace and The Pistons exploded upon Jason Maxiell stuffing Rasheed Wallace’s dunk attempt. Detroit came back the other way with a layup and turned a 6 point deficit into a one point lead in the next 2 minutes, aggressively attacking the hoop during their 11-4 run.
It was a nip and tuck battle the rest of the way, but that sequence set the tone for the rest of the game. The Celtics had given the Pistons a shot of energy and an inclination that “yes we can beat these guys.” Giving their opponent that kind of life has been the C’s undoing this year.
Inferior teams like the Pistons (Indiana, Golden State, Philadelphia, Chicago) have been given opportunities to exploit the Green much more this year than we’ve seen in years past. Sure the C’s have had trouble with bad teams in the past couple years, but not nearly as often and as we’ve discussed virtually never at home. It’s a disturbing trend to say the least.
So what’s the difference this year? Health obviously is a major factor, but then again it was last year too. I’d have to say though it’s felt as if this Celtic team has many more weaknesses their opponents can attack this year. With this in mind, I took a closer look at the numbers over at Basketball-Reference, comparing this team to recent Celtics squads.
For the past couple years, turnovers had only been the real achilles heel for The Green. Turnover percentage and Free throw attempts/per shot for opponents were the only 2 factors out of the “four factors” on both sides of the ball that the team finished in the bottom 10 of the league of during the past 2 seasons.
This year though, there are more flaws for opponents to attack. Along with the turnover problem remaining in place, the C’s rank 27th in offensive rebounding percentage. So offensively, things can go haywire pretty quickly for the C’s in many ways. They can turn the ball over with reckless abandonment, or if they have a bad shooting night, they have no major capability to attack the glass for 2nd chances opportunities. In the case of last night’s contest it was a bit of both of these weaknesses, (18 turnovers and only 5 offensive boards) that led to the team’s worst offensive scoring output of the year.
The Celtics of the past 2 years also had many more strengths than this one, finishing in the top 10 of six of the eight stats categories that make up the team’s offensive and defensive ratings. This year however? Only 4. FG efficiency, getting to the line, field goal defense efficiency and forcing turnovers are the 4 things this team does at an elite level. So where have the C’s leveled off? Defensive rebounding. They’ve been a cream of the crop the past 2 years, but now are floundering around the league average.
So looking at the big picture, the C’s now have additional glaring flaws and fewer strengths this year. How can they solve these problems? Well the return of KG will help the defensive rebounding without question, but the other categories don’t really have any obvious solution.
In past years, Zach Lowe has touched upon the team’s turnover problem indepthly, noting how it was curious a team could be so careless with the ball, yet still manage to win so many games. This year though things have changed. The C’s aren’t playing as well in other facets of the game and it’s making it harder for them to overcome their turnover problem.
The C’s rank 29th in the league in turnover percentage. If I’m Doc Rivers, that’s the first thing I point to my guys right now in terms of what needs to be fixed. The C’s will never be a top 10 or even top 15 team in the league when it comes to turnovers, but they can’t afford to be 29th. They don’t have the talent and consistency to overcome that with this team as currently composed. The foolish and unforced turnovers need to go. Some improvement needs to be seen in that category. If not, losses like we saw last night at The Palace will be becoming more and more common, even after KG returns.