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An Overlooked Factor Responsible for The C’s Defensive Resurgence

 

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.

  • Jason

    Again, I think we have a chicken and egg problem. If the perimeter D steps up (as we have seen), then guys just aren’t threatening the rim, hence fouls will go down.

    First, the Heat are a one-man show to begin with. Second, that one man has been forced to settle for a lot of Js. Third, you take a bunch of other players who aren’t really threats in the first place and you have Rondo, TA and Pierce put even a little extra effort into defending them on the perimeter and voila, no one’s getting in the paint and rarely is the team left in a position needing to foul.

    Miami’s not great while simultaneously the guards stepped up their D. Perfect storm.

    Now let’s see 14 more repeat performances.

  • J-Ro

    Ahhh B-Robb why would you jinx this? Miami has the player with the 4th most FT attempts per game this season on their team. I know what’s going to happen now. Spoelstra, at a loss for what to do (since you know, during the game he asked his assistants “you guys got anything”) will scour the internet looking for tips and find this article you just wrote.

    Just kidding. I’m pretty sure since Spoelstra is an NBA coach he’s already realized this and will gear a game plan towards getting wade to the rim. I’m predicting an ugly, ugly game. The kind where a superstar gets every single call at home (not that referees are affected by that sort of thing), ray allen has 5 fouls at halftime and perkins and wallace both have technical fouls

    great column mr robb, the heat not getting to the stripe has been a huge part of the C’s awesome defense and its been really cool to watch

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Jason makes some excellent points. Most people harp on not fouling a jump shooter. Looks like the Cs are trying to STAY DOWN & not go for blocks but just contain. Keeping the Heat out of the lane is paramount. Everybody gives up something on defense & the deep deuce is the way to go. As Jason pointed out, most fouls do take place in the paint. When our bigs get out of position due to perimeter breakdowns it is chaos in the lane. If Rondo & Paul & Ray make a big effort to stay in front of their man—- then when these outside jumpers miss our bigs are in much better position to rebound without fouling. BUT the sledgehammer response of sending everybody to rebound, especially Rondo & Paul, is working much better.

    Rondo, in playoff mode, is doing a MUCH BETTER job at playing D with a lot of energy & focus. Thank God, Rondo is also looking to drop down inside & actively go after the ball to help rebound. I really don’t care if Rajon does not break double digits in scoring if he will just work hard to go for double digits in assists (limit fancy passes) & rebounds. That is what is working. Pound the ball inside & go to the free throw line & use the majority of your energy on D & rebounding. It also helps getting their bigs in foul trouble so they can’t really get in rhythm in the paint. I want to see KG at the foul line A LOT!

    I thought the 2nd game DRASTICALLY changed when Sheed got hurt & DOC WAS FORCED TO SUB HIM OUT. Finally, you had a group out there who was willing to PLAY HARD & ROTATE on the defensive end. There were no slackers. Does this mean that Sheed should be out of the rotation? For this series, yes. It is somewhat of an egg on your face situation, but we need to go with what is working now not what we planned to work last summer. Glen & Shelden & TA hustle. Sheed has lost 1-2-3 steps & is not interested in having anything to do with running. The coach has to hold slackers accountable when the rest of the team is energized & working their bee hinds off. It only takes 1 bad apple to ruin all that hard effort. Seriously, Boston started their big run when Sheed was subbed out. The effort team was out there & they just moved their feet, helped each other, & got away from the slap as they go by, cop out defense. It looked like TA was screaming at Ray to “stay down” after Ray fouled DWade on the controversial 3 which ended up being a 2. That was great to see.

    Sometimes you will see a jump shooting team get hot for a couple of quarters but rarely does it last the whole game. Charles has said time & again that no jump shooting team is gonna win the finals (ie taking way too many jumpers). Most teams have their jumpers falling short in the 4th (unless it is Kobe, LeBron etc) due to tired legs BUT when you’ve played smart defense by making them take the shot YOU want them to take, a deep 2, then you HAVE to FINISH that great defense WITH ALL 5 GUYS in an ALL OUT WAR TO GET THAT REBOUND. Instead of leaking out, you have seen more of all 5 trying to block out & rebound. It is beautiful. Lets just hope they don’t get arrogant & lazy wanting to show off & go back to bad habits. They have to work hard to finish this out.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    I think part of the malaise & laziness on defense this year is from knowing that KG is back there. In an odd way, KG can actually give the Cs bad habits (first heard this from Lamar Odom talking about Kobe….something to the effect of ‘Kobe is so good that he gives the rest of the team bad habits’).

    If Doc sees this happening— letting guys in the lane/no pressure on the ball etc. then it might actually be a good idea to sub KG out & put Glen & Shelden in. It sounds contrarian/paradoxical, but it seems like the guys who should have known better before suddenly realize, ‘hey, I’ve got to try & keep player X out of the lane cuz KG is not there.’

    I’ve really enjoyed the Cs greater pressure on the ball, especially Rondo (when he is willing) & TA. I’ve lost count of the number of steals that you could trace back to TA putting uber pressure on the ball & the subsequent pass being very weak & thieveworthy. One problem with TA: keep DWade off the glass, block him out with your body on the perimeter so he doesn’t go flying into the paint like he has done the past 2 games. Just get in his way after the shot goes up. DWade is running into that paint like a track athlete with no hurdles. Obstacles kill speed & hops.

  • Jason

    Cause: Perimeter D improves.

    Effects: Shooting percentages go down (fewer layups, more Js). Fouls go down. Defensive rebounding improves. The defense is historically great again.

    It’s not rocket science and I’ve been pounding on the perimeter D as the culprit for a few months now.

  • DeVelaine

    So I got curious, and decided to take a look at the playoff predictor again. Using the Accuscore rankings… First simulation has Boston winning the title, and going through Atlanta to do it. Makes me wonder.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @Dev: Is the predictor updating based on game results?

  • Ray Leighton

    @Brian — Wow! Cool that you spotted that. Thanks for the post.

    @Jason and Cptn — all good comments. Doc has mentioned before that our perimeter defense has often been a problem, and he mentioned it specifically in the context of giving up points at the rim from bigs getting out of position to help — and rebounds. But it makes sense in terms of fouls as well.

    I too have wondered — and commented on this in a recent post — if the Cs have gotten so used to KG being back there as an anchor to bail them out that when he isn’t 100% and the rest of the team keeps playing as if he is, that we just get killed.

    And yes, in total agreement — given how well our defense is playing, Doc needs to bench Sheed now and put people out there who will continue to put in the effort to maintain that defense. I never thought one guy could hurt the Celtics’ chemistry so badly.

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