Post-game Reactions

[Editor’s Note:  I have to admit, I have been known to make a mistake here and there in posts.  These mistakes are usually made in haste and I apologize for making my more regrettable ones (like Monday when I mentioned Ronnie Brewer would be defending Pierce in the Jazz game….<smacks forehead>.  I totally take ownership.

Here at CelticsHub, we try to read all of your thoughts from the comment section and respond when response merits.  The understanding is essentially, if you took the time to read and react, we’ll take the time to respond.  Some comments however, deserve more than just a Twitter-sized response.  So without further adieu, Jason, this one’s for you.]

In the preview for Monday’s Jazz game, I wrote the following: Despite their early season dominance, it could be argued that the Celtics are really playing their best basketball of the season. That’s a pretty amorphous statement that, I admit, I was pretty noncommittal about when I wrote it.  So, I looked up the numbers.  As it turns out, I was right.

The best way to quantitatively approach this subject is to first determine a length of time by which a statement like “playing their best basketball” can be measured.  I thought about crunching numbers and analyzing the season by dividing it into four equal parts.  That, unfortunately, got axed because the Celtics are more then 3/4th’s of the way through the season.  Plus, let’s be honest, that would be a TON of number crunching and I have a degree in English.  Given these conditions, I decided that doing all that number crunching would be a waste of time-mostly because ESPN had already done it for me.

After perusing the options within their fancy drop-down menu, I settled on the Gregorian Calendar “Month” for dividing the season up into suitable periods of analyzable play.  I guess I already let the cat out of the bag, but since you won’t believe me until I provide some fancy pictures that illustrate my point, I suppose I’ll oblige:








By looking at the numbers, December and March jump out as being the most offensively productive.  For the sake of quick reference and stemming the outbreak of unnecessary scrolling, I have provided you with the two months together for easy comparison (please, no need to thank me.  It’s my job…sort of):




Let’s just go through this stat cat by stat cat.  Points, assists, and personal fouls are a wash.  December gets the nod in the rebounding and blocks department while March wins out in steals and the assist to turnover ratio.  The overall picture boils down to a pick-your-poison scenario.  Do you appreciate the glass cleaning the Celts did back in December, or are you astounded by how well the Celtics took care of the ball in March?  You can figure out which way I lean by the way I framed the question.

Despite the majority of the content in this post, I am not a stats person.  That is why it is even more important to look at who the Celtics played in December and March and the context surrounding those games.

Once again, at first look, the wins for December look pretty impressive.  The Celtics had blow out wins against Oklahoma City and Utah coupled with solid wins against San Antonio and Orlando.  These are, without a doubt, impressive wins.  On the flip-side, the Celtics took some BAD losses against BAD teams.  These include games against Philadelphia, Golden State, and the Los Angeles Clippers.  Conversely, in the month of March, the Celtics have seen two really impressive wins against western title contenders, Dallas and Denver.  The Celtics also only have one bad loss in the month of March (ya’ll remember Memphis, right?).

If these win-loss records still don’t convince you, the Celtics still have games against San Antonio and Oklahoma City.  If they were to get wins against these two western powers, the debate ends there.

For right now though, the debate continues.

Based solely on personnel the Celtics are a better team than they were in December, thus should be playing better basketball.  Michael Finley is an upgrade over the two-headed Walker-Giddens monster and I’ve already written about how Nate Robinson is an upgrade over Eddie House.  Compound the personnel upgrade with an even bigger factor for the present: health.  Big Baby has a thumb again and has put it to good use gobbling up offensive rebounds.  Paul Pierce’s knee has been emptied out which commemorates the return of his quick first step.  Kevin Garnett is at least playing in games and contributing well.

All signs point to the Celtics playing their best basketball in the month of March, which is a sign that they are one step closer to hitting their stride before the playoffs.

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  • Jason

    Good stuff 🙂

    The original statement said “arguably” and yes arguably it has been their best. I was just on the opposite side of the argument, that’s all.

    Anyway, that came before the Utah game (not bad) and after the Denver game (good, but not great), so even two games later, I’m not sure much is settled. I’m certainly one to look at numbers, but let me point to a few hard-to-put-a-number-on “things.”

    For instance, I could say Philly’s just the athletic-type team that’s a tough match-up for the Cs. And the Cs fell into GS’s run-and-gun and blew it. And the Clips always play the Cs hard. Check last year, too. Plus, just now Utah was without AK47. Denver was without Kenyon and on a losing streak.

    If you could/did adjust for all such things maybe March then comes out ahead of December, then again maybe not. I’m just saying these numbers *could* be refuted by such things.

    For the most part, I admittedly was weighing their gaudy record a little more than I normally would. I would typically look at adjusted scoring margin for a true level of performance, not to mention Xmas is an arbitrary endpoint, which is rather an unfair way to frame an argument.

    Regardless, I take into account injuries, opponent quality, opponent injuries, etc. And since it is so hard to quantify all that, from the feel of it, just watching the games, back then they weren’t shooting themselves in the foot (turnovers, mediocre D, missing open Js and even open shots at the rim). They weren’t blowing the games against inferior teams, they weren’t blowing big leads, etc.

    And even though they are playing better recently, you still see lapses: some bad TOs, some bad misses, some soft D. I just didn’t see (or don’t remember and I’ll fully admit that selective memory might be in play) those things back then, yet still do a little now.

    Plus, that was really a stretch of two straight months of great play and this is really just a few weeks of better, yet still sometimes iffy, play.

    So, again, while these numbers are good and all, I take them with salt because of who they played and when they played them and the things I still see now that I didn’t see then that still makes me think back then they were playing better.

    But I’m fully on board with saying they are trending up and could certainly pass whatever bar was set in December.

    Of course, this is all academic. As long as they turn it on when it “really matters” (whatever definition you place on that) who cares which was better, March or December? I’m just glad with a lot of the trends. I think four of the starters are where we need them and good to go. (Glad to have you back Captain.) KG still makes me nervous. He’s simply not old KG. What’d I really like to know is if he is still recovering and we should have hope for more or is he as “back” as he going to get. Is he limping because he’s stiff or because he’s still injured?

    As for the bench, I’m rather optimistic about Nate and Finley, hopeful BBD will be a net positive and cautiously hopeful Sheed will contribute when it again “really matters.” Quisy concerns me a lot and while it was just one game TA looked really good. Overall, lots of positives and a decent amount of time to continue the upward trend. I’m definitely more hopeful now than I’ve been since December, but I’m still not ready to say they are playing better right now just yet. Of course, I’d be delighted if they prove me wrong.

  • J

    “The Celtics also only have one bad loss in the month of March (ya’ll remember Memphis, right?).”

    Memphis isn’t exactly a bad team. They’re young and they’ve got length and athleticism..things that we struggle badly against for e.g Atlanta and Bucks. So I wouldn’t say we lost to a bad team that time. Rather I’d argue that we weren’t as healthy plus we were coming off a back to back against the young Bucks that had beaten us the previous night AND a testament to the length and athleticism of the Grizzlies was their ability to dominate the boards 48-29 in that game..So yeah young athletic teams give us trouble. Not that we can’t beat em but it really wears the team down.

    Would be nice to beat the Spurs and Thunder since they would be playing at their hardest for playoff seedings in the West..they’re the ones that we can measure ourselves against..not so much the Cleveland and Bucks games in April since both those teams would not be playing as hard by then.

  • Dan

    A win against the Thunder is FAR more impressive than a win against the Spurs. The Spurs are basically the Celtics of the west, except they draft better.

  • Ray Leighton

    Am I missing something? Where are the opponent’s numbers? At the very least, how many points were the Celtics giving up? I don’t think that we can discuss how well they are playing without looking at the defense.

    A curious observation: we had slightly better assist and a/to numbers in February than we did in March — but we scored five fewer points per game in February. I’d like to know how we are getting those five extra points — better three-point shooting? More free-throws? Maybe this is worth knowing….

  • J

    “At the very least, how many points were the Celtics giving up?”

    Not sure how far back you want to go but in the month of March we’ve given up 100points or more, in 5 games out of 14 games. Out of those 5 games, we’ve lost 3 games where we’ve given up 100 points or more. Those 3 losses of over 100 points or more were against the Grizzlies, the Cavs and the Jazz.

    As for your question about how we’re much better offensively in March, my personal guess is that because Ray was our best scorer during the month of February, we didn’t have as much firepower since Pierce wasn’t really scoring much. However, since Pierce has gotten back on form, we now have Pierce who is scoring well and Ray who still contributes his fair share of 15-20 points per game in the month of March. Therefore my conclusion is that Pierce has been the catalyst for our offensive improvements.

    For example, lets take a look at our loss against Denver in February and our win against Denver in March. In February, you had Ray scoring 25 in that loss but Pierce only scoring 5. But in March, you have Pierce scoring 27 and Ray adding a consistent 16 points(not to mention a blistering .420% from 3 point range in the month of March). Plus you can’t forget the addition of Finley who has really helped the bench with his ranged shots, providing a decent 6-7 points on average through the month of March. Less of Rasheed making bricks and more of Finley actually draining the long ranged shots because Rasheed has actually taken less shots in March which I am guessing is because he is finally listening and understanding there are more scoring options than just him from the bench.

    But all this is just my personal speculation. I mean it has to mean something when Pierce averaged only 11.7 points in February and now 18.6 points in March. Oh plus we’re shooting at .388% in the month of March as a team from 3 point range and .788% on FTs compared to .306% in February and .700% on FTs.

  • Chris O.

    ‘Am I missing something? Where are the opponent’s numbers? At the very least, how many points were the Celtics giving up? I don’t think that we can discuss how well they are playing without looking at the defense.’
    -Ray ESPN doesn’t give opponents numbers but I would say based on what I remember that would also put November in this conversation. Realistically October was their best month as they were 3-0 (undefeated) with an average margin of victory of 22.33 with wins over the Cavs, Charlotte and Chicago. Yes just 3 games but since Brendan is looking realistically at a microcosm of 2 weeks or so in March as the Celtics ‘best month’ I guess I can be allowed to argue for October. The best long period of good play was from the onset of the season until Christmas when we were 23-5…but of course we all know that.

  • Chris O.

    Here are the best three months when it matters statistically really.

    #1 December 10-4 with a +6.857 point differential. Best wins @ San Antonio, @ Orlando. 3 of 4 losses were by 4 points or less (Philly was 1 point Clippers 2 points). Only bad loss was to Phoenix.

    #2 March (so far) 10-4 with a +5.929 point differential. Best wins @ Dallas, Denver. 3 of 4 losses by 10 points or more (blow outs against Cleveland and Memphis ended much closer than the games were).

    #3 November 10-4 with a + 5.643 point differential. Best wins Utah, @ Miami. 3 of 4 losses were to elite teams at the time including Atlanta, Orlando, and Phoenix.

  • DeVelaine

    Maybe I should get back to updating the spreadsheet I was working on. I’d be able to dredge out opponents’ numbers from that for the time frames involved.

  • Kevin

    I have to admit that I was really surprised after reading this column, because I had no idea that you have a degree in ENGLISH? Really?! Your compositions look like you took a well-formulated essay and accidentally dropped in a food processor instead of a word processor. Just kidding, of course.

  • Perry

    @Jason: I’d have to agree with most of your points. I think many of us get too hung up on stats. Statistics will always be a byproduct of hustle, motivation, chemistry, etc. In other words the little things that…you guessed it, don’t show up on stat sheets.

    Up until the trade deadline Ray was shooting 45%. His troubles on the court were well documented, but the intangible not taken into account by a stat sheet was his fear of being traded. Conversely, post all-star break, Ray is shooting 53.5%.

    Saturday night, the Celts recorded a high number of defections resulting in only 93 points for Dallas. It’s pretty hard to find that stat on hoop data or any other web site.

    Are they playing their best ball?

    Not if you watched them roll out to a 23-5 start.

    We’ll know when they arrive at that plateau when opponents are being held to 93 points or below on a consistent basis. This team’s identity is defensive. Many times this month they’ve allowed more than 100 points scored. Another troubling statistic is field goals made continue to decrease in each successive quarter. Maybe that explains the second half collapses this season. Doc has said this team hangs its head when the ball isn’t going in.

    To your analysis on KG. I don’t think we’ll ever see the Kevin in 07′-08′ again. Between the injuries and the historical minutes logged in we can’t expect him to play at that level. But 80% of Kevin just may be enough to win a title, if the other moving parts play at a high level.

    The Celtic chemistry has been out of sync all year because of injuries especially where Kevin is concerned. Perk was forced score the ball more. Rondo became the team’s number one scoring option at times. Pierce played hurt when should have rested. Finally guys are healthily and settling back into their roles. All signs point to a very compelling post season.

  • NickFaldo

    These guys are like Doc. Nice guys, but make their share of mistakes. One of you guys wrote the Pepsi Center for the location of the Nuggets game. I see a mistake like that and wonder how’d it get in there. If you make too many of them, people will turn you off. Maybe it’s because you guys all seem to be from New York and in love with stats that’s the problem.