The Boston Celtics have put on a clinic in their dismantling of the Miami Heat these past two games, holding Dwayne Wade and company to a paltry 76.5 points per game. Much has been made of these defensive masterpieces, and there have plenty of factors that have come into play that we’ve covered here at CelticsHub that have contributed to the C’s shutdown D.
Sharp rotations? Check. Terrific Pick and Roll Schemes? Check. Elite defensive rebounding, resulting in plenty of “one and done” possessions for Miami? Check.
Yet, there has been one critical aspect of this team’s defense, arguably the team’s biggest weakness all year long, that has been overlooked in this defensive resurgence. In fact, I would contend that the C’s performance in this department is the most important factor in keeping Miami’s offense at bay so far this series.
So what exactly is this mystery element? It’s quite simple really. The Celtics have rarely fouled in this series.
Rarely, in fact may be an understatement in this department. Over the regular season, the Celtics averaged 22.2 personal fouls per game, good for the 9th highest total in the league.
In comparison, Miami was a middle of the road team is this department, fouling 20.9 per game, which came in at 14th in the NBA.
Let’s now fast forward to the first two games of this series. Also keep in mind, as far as NBA playoff goes, it’s safe to say the physicality and in turn fouls generally go up as well as a rule of thumb. For further reference, see the final 5 minutes of Lakers-Thunder Game 2. With that understood, let’s take a look at these C’s-Heat numbers through 2 games:
Miami Fouls Committed Celtic FT Attempts
Game 1 24 22/28
Game 2 26 22/27
Unsurprising numbers here. The Celtics were attacking Miami relentlessly in transition for both games and were in turn rewarded with a plethora of chances at the free throw line, with Glen Davis leading the way with 11 free throw attempts in game 2.
Given their season numbers in this department, where Boston is an elite team at getting to the line (6th) while The Heat struggle at keeping their opponents away from the charity stripe (23rd), these numbers are coming in as expected.
Now let’s take a look at the Celtic breakdown. C’s fans, I hope your sitting down for this, because these are likely numbers you aren’t going to see again during these playoffs, if ever.
Boston Fouls Committed Heat FT Attempts
Game 1 11 10/13
Game 2 14 10/16
Just incredible statistics right there. Given the discrepancy in these fouls numbers, it’s even more impressive that I’ve heard no Heat fans come out and challenge the differential in foul calls and free throw attempts. Why? Because, they really have no case.
There were very few, if any controversial calls on either end of the floor in both of these games, where a Heat fan could point out as being overly favorable to the C’s. Boston just played fundamentally sound and aggressive basketball on both ends of the floor and got rewarded for it.
With this in mind, let’s put in perspective just how impressive these foul numbers are. First let’s start with game 1 and the 11 fouls committed.
* That’s the fewest fouls committed in a playoff game during the recent Big 3 era.
* According to Basketball-Reference, there have been only FOUR games in the NBA playoffs with fewer than 11 fouls called on one team since 1986. Amazingly, two of those teams lost those games despite the lack of fouls whistled.
Despite those numbers in game one, the numbers from game two might impress me a bit more. Why you ask? Consider this:
In game two, the Celtics committed no fouls in the first quarter, only had 4 at halftime, and just 5 total midway through the third quarter, at which point they were concluding their 41-8 run, turning the contest into a laugher.
Essentially, Boston nearly went 30 minutes of play, before the game was in doubt, with just 5 fouls committed. That’s astounding.
Obviously with the terrific defense, and lack of fouls came very few free throw attempts for the Heat. Given how much the Celtics struggled in this department this year, (25th in FT/FGA) those minimal free throw attempts might be the most encouraging part of the playoffs for me thus far.
It’s only two games, but you can’t help but be overly enthused about this team’s long term prospects if they can keep up the defensive discipline. Opponents have burned the C’s at the charity stripe all year long, with the parade to the line usually being a sign of lazy rotations and breaking the defensive scheme rules, provided by defensive architect Tom Thibodeau.
While the C’s may not be able to just “turn on the switch” defensively, it’s much easier to think they just stopped being lazy at this end of the floor, allowing their schemes to be much more effective. This has put each player on the floor in better positions to succeed defensively and as a result, not foul.
Miami aren’t exactly world beaters on the offensive end (understatement of the year, perhaps) but they aren’t exactly chopped liver either. If the C’s continue to keep the fouls down, they will be able to play with anyone on any given night this postseason.