Post-game Reactions

There are C’s fans who don’t want to admit it, but Boston is the clear underdog against the Cavaliers. If you think the regular-season is irrelevant, or that regular-season trends don’t carry over into April and May, you haven’t been paying attention to the playoffs. The Cavs come into this series as the better team and the favorite. That is clear.

That doesn’t mean the Celtics can’t pull this off. The C’s are healthier than they’ve been at any point since Christmas, and they are still capable of bringing 48 minutes of world class defense on any given night. They can win a road game—two if necessary.

But a lot of things have to go right for Boston to beat Cleveland four times in seven games. We’ve discussed a few of them already—the importance of at least matching Cleveland’s production from three, being ready to counter the Cavs’ small line-up with LeBron at the power forward, and, of course, finding a way to guard LeBron without leaving the rest of the Cavs open behind the three-point line.

One other thing an underdog has to do: Exploit the favorite’s few weaknesses, and never allow the favorite to get an unexpected boost by turning one of those weaknesses into a strength.

In this series, that means two things:

1) Winning the turnover battle—or at least fighting it to a draw

If there is a chink in Cleveland’s armor, it’s that they can be sloppy with the ball. This is a team that ranks in the top-10—and usually the top-5—in just about every category in which it wants to excel. The exception: turnovers. The Cavs’ ranked just 16th this season in turnovers per possession after finishing tied for 6th in that category last season, according to Basketball-Reference. Cleveland coughed the ball up on about 13.5 percent of its possessions this season, up from 12.5 percent last season.

The Celtics, of course, have been among the most turnover-prone teams in the league since the KG/Ray trades. Boston turned the ball over on 14.5 percent of its possessions this season; only three teams were worse.

Turnovers aren’t the be-all, end-all of basketball. Various statisticians, including Wayne Winston, the former Mavs consultant, have shown that turnover margin has a smaller impact on the outcome of a game than other factors, including field-goal percentage.

But when you’re the underdog, every possible edge matters. And this is an edge the Celtics can have if they’re careful with the ball. The C’s force a ton of turnovers (only Golden State forced them more often), and they’ll force their fair share against Cleveland without gambling or compromising their defense. The silly turnovers on offense—the kind that kept Miami in Game 5 during the 1st quarter? Those have to go if Boston wants a chance at this.

In the Miami series, the C’s turned the ball over on 15.6 percent of their possessions, according to BR. That’s worse than their regular-season number and worse than every playoff team but Miami and Charlotte.

That will not cut it against the Cavs.

2) Protect the defensive glass.

This version of the Cavs is not a good offensive rebounding team. The Cavs ranked 21st this season in offensive rebounding rate, which measures how often a team rebounds its own misses. You’re tempted to chalk that up to the fact that Mike Brown is a Gregg Popovich disciple, and Pop’s Spurs haven’t cared about offensive rebounding since the late 1990s. But the Cavs were league average in offensive rebounding last season and #2 in the league in offensive rebounding rate in ’08. Of course, they had Ben Wallace in both of those seasons.

In any case, this Cavs team, the one the Celtics must beat four times in seven games, does not get a lot of extra possessions by crashing the boards. And if you want to beat them four times in seven games?

You cannot give them extra possessions. You must protect the defensive glass.

The Celtics were an inconsistent defensive rebounding team this year after ranking near the top in that category each in ’08 and ’09. They rebounded 73.8 percent of opponent misses this season, the 12th-best mark in the league, but they fell as low as 17th at various points.

This is non-negotiable: If the C’s don’t protect the defensive glass, they will not win this series.

Good news: They grabbed 77.4 percent of offensive rebounds against the Heat in the first round; only one playoff team has been better.

Keep it up, guys.

Game 1 is tomorrow.

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Zach Lowe

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  • Jason

    First things first. Let’s go Thunder.

    Second, let’s go Bucks. Wait, do we root for the Bucks because we hate the Hawks or root for the Hawks because maybe they’ll push the Magic more? Or is that not even a given anymore? Oh well, go Bucks.

  • Jason

    Now, as the for the Cs.

    I think all the strengths, weaknesses, tactics etc have been flushed out. Time to just get it on. So, in the words Billy Ray Valentine: “We’re gonna kill the motherfuckers.”

    And yes, for Games 3 and 4, serenading Queen James with Sinatra’s “New York, New York” would be so magnificent. “Start spreading the news. I’m leaving Cleveland. I want to be a part of it. New York. New York” Ha ha.

  • matthew

    as much as many believe that the celt’s stingy defense is the key to an upset here, i believe it rests solely on the big 3’s offense. if KG, allen and pierce get it going on the offensive end ala-2008, i’d pick the Cs anyday.

    of couse, that’s a big “IF”.

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  • CPro

    Keep dreamin’ all you bandwagon Celtics fans. Your season is done (and don’t count on anything more than the Semifinals for years to come).

  • Devon

    @CP the C’ s forum to discuss our inevitable future… A low blow… I have a picture for you… Lebron age 35… hops gone.. injured. FUCKING HUNGRY and Angry. That’s how KG, Paul and Jesus feel right now. Do you really think this won’t go seven… I really hope Lebron’s arm falls off. Shit did I say that out loud… Er… in writing.

  • Devon

    @cPro The bandwagon fans don’t come to such in depth analytical sites such as this one… They are sophomoric in their knowledge, like you.

  • Jason

    If you currently are a Cavs fan, there’s a 95% chance you yourself are a bandwagon fan. Glass houses chump.

  • DRJ1

    I’m very happy that just about everyone in the world thinks the Cs are underdogs. But just for the record, it’s not true.

    “If you think the regular-season is irrelevant, or that regular-season trends don’t carry over into April and May, you haven’t been paying attention to the playoffs.” — Uhh, actually, I have…. and I’ve seen the 7th seed Spurs demolish the 2nd seed Mavs, the Bucks about to eliminate the Hawks, and the 8th seed OKC give the Lakers a real scare. And let’s not forget how the 4th seed Celtics demolished the 5th seed Heat — though these two teams had very similar regular-season records (in fact, the Heat ended the year a LOT better than the Cs). And I remember 2008, when the Lakers were “favored” in the Finals.

    The regular season is not completely irrelevant — just mostly. And no, it does not carry over to the playoffs. The proof is right before our eyes, so it’s a wonder that even Cs fans don’t see it.

    I can’t say the Cs are favored either. I think it’s a tossup. Two very good teams about to get it on. I am willing to say that if both teams play at their best levels, Cs win.

    But… all that’s just between us. For the rest of the planet, let’s be total underdogs. And make sure every player knows that.

  • Jason

    @DRJ C’mon, you are dismissing the regular season with the argument of just look at the seedings. That’s a very poor argument. Forget the end results, the seedings. There is PLENTY MORE to be gleened from the regular season.

    Look at how the Thunder have improved throughout 82 games and how the Lakers have stumbled the last month. You will see more than 1 vs 8 if you do that.

    Remember the Cs/Bulls last year? Their seedings were meaningless because the Cs were now without KG and the Bulls had added talent through a mid-season trade. Neither of those teams could be wholly defined just by their final records or seeding. That’s ridiculous.

    The Spurs have been doing what they always do, considering the regular season as basically the playoffs’s preseason. And if you look beyond seeds again, you will see specific things (like match-ups) for both teams that impacted that series. And those “things” didn’t just show up last week. They were there throughout the season.

    The Heat have always been a one-man team. It was no surprise the team D of the Cs dismantled them.

    The only true surprise, I agree, is the Bucks/Hawks, but hey surprises do happen or they wouldn’t bother playing would they.

    For those who don’t want to look to 82 games of information to inform your thoughts about playoff series, then all I can say is that you are intentionally choosing to make yourself dumber, which is in itself is flat out moronic.

  • RBD

    @DRJ1 If everyone in the world thinks the C’s are underdogs – they’re underdogs. That’s how it works.

    This series is closer than people think, IMO. But Cleveland should rightly be favored.

  • Jason Raymes

    The length of this series will depend solely on Rondo alone… if he can have 4 SUPERB games than I feel that this series is anyone’s to take; otherwise, I think the Cavs are the rightful favorites

  • @DRJ1: You just made my point for me. Most stats suggested the Spurs were better than the Mavs in the regular season. Most stats suggested the Lakers would have trouble with the Thunder; certainly LA’s 18-14 record to finish the season suggested as such.

    And why are the Hawks losing to the Bucks? In part because the Hawks switch every screen and are mediocre defensively–just as we saw in the regular season.

    And the Bobcats couldn’t score on Orlando–just like they couldn’t score in general in the regular season.

  • DRJ1

    @Zach and Jason– Both of you just made my point for me. You have both pointed out factors that affect playoff results that are NOT = regular season records. That was my point. And Jason — I did not say there is “nothing to be learned from the regular season.” I said the reg season doesn’t “carry over” to the playoffs, which — unless you are determined to interpret everything in the most ridiculous light — means the results of the reg season do not foretell the results of the playoffs. Which is exactly what you and Zach have also said. Apparently, we’re all saying the same thing.

    The difference I have with Zach is that the Cavs’ great regular season record as compared to the Cs’ is meaningless now — because they Cs have dramatically changed, obviously. How Zach concludes that “The Cavs come into this series as the better team and the favorite” is beyond me. The only element he seems to point to IS THEIR RECORD…. which, as noted, is meaningless as a point of comparison. Trends, on the other hand, are certainly more meaningful. And what has the Cs’ trend been? Well — it’s a curve with a very, very high positive slope. Practically a stair step. So… how and why are the Cavs “clearly” the favorites here??

    Finally, RBD– we’re not talking about whether everyone BELIEVES the Cs are underdogs… no argument there, clearly. If you want to argue that perception is reality, that’s fine, except that’s not the issue here. We’re talking about whether they truly ARE underdogs… i.e., about actual reality, not perceived reality.

  • DRJ1: We are saying the same things then. Regular season record doesn’t mean much to me. Regular season quality of play does. And the Cavs quality of regular season play was much higher than Boston’s. I didn’t get into the efficiency #s, the rebounding #s, the scoring margin and other assorted statistics–normal and advanced–that show this, because, frankly, it’s obvious: The Cavs played a much higher quality of basketball than did Boston in the regular season.

  • DRJ1

    @Zach– No argument with any of what you just posted.

    My point is this: the poor quality of play by the Cs in the regular season does not translate into any meaningful conclusions about how they will play in the playoffs. I think that’s very obvious, isn’t it? I mean, that’s what “throwing a switch” MEANS, right?

    So the only argument that lends meaning to the disparity in the reg season records between the Cavs and the Celtics is one that DENIES the change in the Cs for the playoffs. I don’t think you’re denying that. Therefore, it’s not reasonable to conclude that the Cavs are favored. Unless you have some data FROM THE PLAYOFFS that indicate that…… Or some argument based on matchups, desire, or any other real and CURRENT difference(s) between the two teams.

  • Jason

    Dude, you clearly stated the regular season is “mostly” irrelevant. That is flat-out, bat-crazy wrong. I am done arguing with you over this.

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  • DRJ1

    I don’t know what stick you have up your butt, Jason… or why…. but what I said was pretty clear, unless you are determined, as you seem to be, to interpret it in exactly the wrong/ worst/ most ridiculous way.

    Bottom line is: I don’t see any reasonable logic by which the Celtics are underdogs in this series, unless you use the two teams’ regular season records, which are now no longer relevant in my view. If you truly want to believe they are underdogs… well then… believe away. However, if you want to ARGUE about it, then you must actually PRESENT an argument, as opposed to invectives and epithets.

  • RBD


    You’re out on a limb on this one by yourself, it looks like.

    Basically, people reject your theory about the switch being thrown, particularly when your evidence is a beatdown of a crappy Miami team. Sure, the Celtics played better in round one than they had in the previous four months, but that doesn’t make them equals with Cleveland. For reasons that seem obvious to everyone but you (as Zach notes, all the advanced metrics favor Cleveland).

    As yet, I don’t see any metrics from you (at all) that suggest Boston did anything but beat up on a bad team. Or any analysis of how matchups favor Boston.

    The burden of proof here is on you. Not everyone else.

    So either come up with an argument that convinces us, or stop acting like we’re the ones out on a limb.

    It’s annoying.

  • DRJ1

    @RBD– Really? You don’t see that a switch has been thrown? Well… if that’s the case, then the Cs being underdogs in your view makes sense.

    But I seriously doubt that Zach does not believe that the Cs are playing at a much higher level now than in the regular season. Not sure Jason believes that either. If that were true — then that was the point to make up front, I would think… because that ends all further argument about the Cs being underdogs. And yet, you’re the first to say the words.

    I believe you are out on a limb by yourself if you really believe no switch has been thrown. To me, it’s clear as day. Obvious. But who knows?…. Let others speak for themselves.

    As for it being annoying…. I suppose being wrong is annoying. I understand that, RBD. If you don’t see the difference in the Celtics’ play in the playoffs…. then I suppose you get that a lot.

  • RBD

    You still haven’t made an argument beyond claiming they’ve “thrown a switch.” That’s NOT a compelling argument.

    And even if they’re playing more focused and intense (which I think we all know they are – I’m not debating that), they’re still underdogs against Cleveland.

    Let’s hear something more compelling than a cliche about throwing a switch. Otherwise, you’re not gonna be taken seriously. But I suspect that’s not a new thing given what I’ve seen from you on this blog.

  • Jason

    What you said was pretty clear and as such, there isn’t anything to intrepret incorrectly.

    Quothing DRJ: “The regular season is not completely irrelevant — just mostly.”

    This is a completely inaccurate statement. If there’s a stick up my butt, it’s about your head being in your ass.

  • legs-diamond

    Zach, what about some (in)tangibles like having Rondo (and T Allen) harrassing the somewhat mediocre ballhandling point Mo Williams?

  • DRJ1

    Sorry, RBD– I thought it was obvious that they had stepped up their play. Didn’t know I had to “prove” it. Do I have to prove that there will be a Saturday too? Even if I had the time, I don’t feel like wasting it proving the self-evident.

    And Jason– LOL. ‘Nuf said.
    (Except that yeah, it’s mostly irrelevant, which I’ve been saying for months now. If the Cs are going to save their REAL A-game for the playoffs, then yes, the regular season is “mostly irrelevant.” What’s hard to understand about that?)

  • RBD

    @DRJ1 – last try. Let’s see an argument from you, BEYOND JUST SAYING THEY’RE PLAYING BETTER WHICH NO ONE IS DISPUTING, which suggests that Boston isn’t an underdog against Cleveland. Because beating up on Miami doesn’t lead to any conclusions without additional proof.

  • NV

    They will will will will win. whether it is 4 or 7 they will win. Mark my words.

  • DRJ1

    @RBD– When I have time, I’ll pull stats for you. But logically, you are wrong to demand “proof” from ME. I am saying “there’s no evidence that either team is better than the other.” I am saying “the Celtics are not underdogs, and they’re not favorites.” And “either team can win this.”

    It is you, and originally Zach, and apparently Jason too — who are saying “the Celtics are underdogs.” The burden of proof lies WITH YOU if you are going to make statements like that.

    I.e. — I’m taking the neutral stand, saying that the Cs have stepped up their game => therefore their regular season play is NOT predictive of their playoff performance and => therefore, we have no information about who is better than whom, and => therefore, there is no favorite or underdog. YOU are saying that is not the case. The burden of proof is logically ON YOU to show how these two teams are NOT in neutral relative to each other.


  • RBD


    If you’re saying there’s no evidence one team is better than the other, I can’t respect your opinion. I don’t.

    It’s like you decided on your conclusion and then ignored whatever didn’t fit. e.g. Six months of regular season basketball – no relevance (nobody thinks this but you, by the way). But a first round series – relevance only in that Boston played better. And some vague comments about a “switch.”

    Anyway, I think I’m done debating with you. You just don’t seem clued into reality. Good luck.

  • The Celtics are underdogs because Cleveland had far better regular season numbers. The Celtics are underdogs because Cleveland, 37-6 at home, has home court. The Celtics are underdogs because even in the post-season, when the purported switch has been flipped, the Cavs still have better efficiency #s (#4 in offensive efficiency, # 4 in defensive efficiency, vs Boston #10 and #1).

    My point is this: If you are arguing Boston is not the underdog, you have no objective evidence. I respect the notion that a veteran team can play with greater intensity in the post-season and that the C’s looked better against Miami than they did at any point in 2010.

    But they are the underdogs by any available objective measure.

  • Let’s not fight. We’re all on the same side, right?

  • DRJ1

    @Zach– Thank you for the points.

    I reject your #1, by virtue of the fact that the Cs are a different team now — by most accounts (unless you reject that notion altogether) — and regular season comparisons are therefore meaningless. HCA (your #2) is nice to have, but far from predictive. As for efficiencies (#3)… defense wins championships, and offensive numbers vary depending on the teams you are facing and types of games you are playing (low scoring / low number of possessions /defense-centric vs. high scoring / high number of possessions / offense-focused). The team with the better defense could be considered the favorite, depending one’s point of view.

    The truth is that it’s hard for people who watched the Celtics in every frustrating game during the regular season to believe that they’re REALLY any different now… that a switch CAN be thrown. Many said it couldn’t be done, and many cling to that belief even now.

    I suppose only real events will convince everyone, finally… if they go our way.

    And I think it’s easier for me to accept the “switch” theory as something real, because I’ve been expecting it for months. Even before the season began, I proposed that such a theory — soft pedaling the regular season to preserve our players’ health for the playoffs, and ignoring HCA — made the most sense, pre factum. (You probably disagree.) That’s probably why I’m readier to accept it as reality, now that it seems to be actually happening (amazingly).

    Moxie– I like to think we’re debating, not fighting. But the line does blur sometimes.

  • DRJ1

    Isn’t it nice that we will start getting real answers tomorrow?

  • Ray Leighton

    OK, guys, chill. This got out of hand. You are talking past each other. We’re all Celtics fans here and we all want the Celtics to win — this is easily the most intelligent sports post I’ve ever come across, but if we are all so bright, then I think that it is too easy for each of us to think that “I must be right”, and to stop listening to everyone else on the post.

    So everyone shut up and listen to me. 🙂

    But seriously, just imagine how much the troll from Cleveland enjoyed that… We’re going to put this down to pre-series excitement and intensity.

    I tend to agree with DRJ1 in the sense that the regular season -record- is probably not a reliable indicator of what can and often does happen in the playoffs. That was how I interpreted his original statement. Obviously Jason, RBD, and others did not read it that way but I don’t think that we need to be jumping up and down on each other’s necks now that it is clearer what DRJ1 meant.

    Celtics flipping the switch — they clearly are playing with more intensity, but I admit that even several games may not mean much if it is just one opposing team, and the Celtics have owned Miami all season. But those Miami scores in the Celtics’ wins were awfully low….

    But that said, I don’t think that the issue is whether the Celtics are as good as the Cavs so much as whether they have flipped the switch. My evidence for whether the Celtics are as good as the Cavs?

    First, I just don’t believe that a team goes 23-5, and has an average margin of victory in double-digits, and then suddenly gets old. Maybe they get hurt, maybe they are bored, maybe they are protecting themselves from more injuries and trying to be rested for the playoffs, but you don’t just get that old that fast. So basically, the talent of the team has to still be there, and that 23-5 run suggests that when the Celtics are healthy and turn it on, they are as good as any team in the league, or better.

    Second, as I have argued in the past, when you start looking at own/opponent production differentials, the Cavs don’t look as good as their record. Yes, they are a good team. But the Cs have six guys with positive own/opponent production differentials (although admittedly, Perk is just barely positive), and the Cavs do not. What the Cavs have is one whopping huge production differential from one player. Of the starters, we have a better production differential at the 4, the 2, and the 1. The Cavs have a slight advantage at the 5, and an enormous advantage at the 3, no slight to Paul, but Lebron is so far and away ahead of everyone else that this would be true even if we had Kevin Durant at the 3. Paul is actually well into the positive, but he’s up against Lebron. The sixth man is close to a tie, although it is difficult to compare TA with Varejao as they clearly don’t play the same positions (a better way to look at this would be that Varejao has an advantage over Davis or Sheed in production differential and TA has a similar advantage over any of the Cavs guards).

    The point here is that despite the injuries, despite the frustrating losses etc., despite whatever happened in the regular season, the playoffs wind up being about more rest and a small rotation, and when you look at the numbers for those people in the short rotations, the Cavs have an advantage in total production differential, entirely courtesy of Lebron, but the Celtics have an advantage at more positions. And yes, those are regular season numbers — regular season numbers from a Celtics team that was frequently injured, and yet they still match up well with Cleveland. If Cleveland goes into panic mode again, if Lebron starts playing one-on-five like he sometimes does, if Lebron is hurting etc., the scales could tip very quickly in the Celtics’ favor.

    So, no I don’t believe the record may matter so much, and yes, I do believe that there may be some lessons that can be learned from the regular season, with the understanding that the straight numbers may not be enough.

    The issue imho is whether the Celtics have flipped the switch for real — and if so (and I believe that to be the case, but that’s my opinion, not data), then I believe that Lebron will be sitting home watching the finals on TV.

    In any event, let’s save our anger for more important things, like politicians and corporations…. anyone feel like stepping up and apologizing? Before Zach and Brendan and Brian shut down the post?

  • DRJ1

    @Ray– Or should I call you Mahatma Ray? 🙂
    Thank you for your cogent, well-reasoned, peacemaking post. I would apologize to anyone whose feelings I may have hurt… except I don’t think anyone was hurt. Other than a little too much ad hominem-ism from Sir J, I thought we were just debating here. Maybe not, though, maybe not…. in which case I do apologize. (But I do enjoy a good rip-roaring debate…..)

    Own/opponent production numbers is an interesting way to look at the two teams. There are several others, some breaking our way, some the Cavs’ way. I don’t see anything that clearly settles the matter…. there’s just not enough reliable data. Which is why I call these teams pretty evenly matched and say it’s not possible to clearly favor one over the other.

    But the good news is…. all this fades into oblivion pretty soon now…… like TOMORROW. We’ll soon see how these teams match up. And with almost everyone on the planet believing the Cavs are soooo much better than the Celts…. I’m looking for great things to happen, great things. On that, at least, we surely all agree.

    Peace. Victory.

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  • @DRJ1–Your comments have inspired a lot of heated talk on here, but for the most part it was INTELLIGENT heated talk, so yay! 🙂

    @Ray–You just made my favorite point in this whole thread: that (many) C’s fans are intelligent. 😀