• Basketball-Reference did a neat little thing (neat, I say!) in figuring out which NBA Finals teams played furthest above their expected levels during the playoffs. To figure this out, the great Neil Paine used regular season efficiency numbers (i.e. points scored and allowed per 100 possessions) and factored in the quality of each opponent a team faced in the playoffs.
The result? The 2010 Celtics made the 2nd-largest jump in history from expected play (based on regular season numbers) to actual post-season play. The interesting thing: Essentially the entire jump stems from Boston’s defense, which has allowed about 3.5 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs despite playing long series against two of the league’s top six offensive teams.
And that’s a good thing, because the Lakers’ offense has scored 116 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs so far. Guess how many teams have hit the 116 mark over a full season in NBA history?
Cue the irresistible force versus immovable object clichés. I’d rather be the irresistible force, by the way. Sounds much more intimidating and supernatural.
Also of note: The 2008 Celtics are nowhere to be found on the Basketball-Reference lists of teams that over-achieved (again, based on regular season stats) on offense and/or defense in the playoffs. Despite a few early-round hiccups, the ’08 C’s played about exactly as expected in the post-season. The contrast with this team is huge.
• I absolutely adore this story in the Globe’s Celtics blog. After the C’s beat the Lakers in Los Angeles in mid-February, Doc Rivers walked into the locker room and did something weird: He asked for an envelope, and then he asked everyone in the room—26 people, it turned out—to each give him $100, which he placed in the envelope. And then:
Rivers took $100 from everyone in the room – players, coaches, managers – to the tune of $2,600 and put it all in the envelope. He then hid the envelope in the locker room.
“The only way you’ll get it back,” he told them, “is if you come back here and get it.”
The challenge was set months ago, and when the Celtics returned to Staples Center today, a day before Game 1 of the Finals, Rivers made good on his part of the deal, opening the envelope and giving each player his reward.
The hidden treasure obviously didn’t curse the Lakers, but it was another one of the many motivational tools Rivers used throughout the season.
Is that cheesy? Sure. There are two ways to read this: Doc might have hidden the envelope, waited for everyone to clear out and then retrieved it and kept it himself. Or: Doc actually managed to stash $2,600 in cash in the Lakers’ locker room for 3 1/2 months.
That can’t be what happened, right? Some Laker player or staff member would have found an envelope stuffed with cash and either reported it or used it to buy an expensive gift for a loved one, right?
• Here’s a huge ESPN roundtable previewing the Finals. I wanted to mention this observation from J.A. Adande:
Kobe Bryant will have to devote his full defensive attention to Rajon Rondo, instead of leaving him to help elsewhere. Can’t give Rondo open 18-footers anymore.
Actually, you can. Rondo’s shooting percentage on long two-pointers dropped significantly this season (and fell below even his ’08 numbers), and he’s just 16-of-49 on long twos so far in the playoffs, according to NBA.com hot spot data:
There’s no question Rondo is a much better player today than he was a year ago, but that’s not because he’s become a threatening jump-shooter.
• Sebastian Pruiti at NBA Playbook becomes the first writer I’ve seen to come out against the idea of Kobe Bryant guarding Rajon Rondo for reasons related to solely to LA’s defense (i.e. not “It will make Kobe tired”). As usual, Sebastian’s got nice video, so go check out his work, but the upshot is this: Rondo won’t be guarding Kobe, so Bryant is going to have to locate Rondo on every LA offense-to-defense change, which could create chaos and all sorts of cross-matching.
• Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reminds us of something very, very important about Derek Fisher in this NBA Finals preview:
Expect [Fisher] to bump Rondo often when he comes into the lane and draw offensive fouls on Boston’s screeners. Fisher is very demonstrative when he is hit with a screen, often drawing the attention of the officials. Boston’s big men need to take care not to move on any screens, lest they pick up any careless fouls.
This is a fantastic point, and one I’ve neglected to mention. It becomes especially important when Boston’s best screener has six post-season technical fouls and one very bad temper.
• The great M. Haubs of The Painted Area becomes the latest writer to compare the 2010 C’s to the 1969 Celtics, but he goes deep into the 1969 season and finds so many parallels as to be downright eerie. One example among many:
On January 18, 1969, the Celtics were a strong 31-14 following a win over the Seattle SuperSonics, before a three-game losing streak started their second-half slide – the C’s finished the season just 17-20 from there.
Seriously, if you want a wonderful five minutes of Celtics history, please go read that post, which is based largely on Thomas Whalen’s wonderful book about the ’69 Celtics.
• Kelly Dwyer on why the Celtics can win:
Phil Jackson has long liked to send a small forward back when a Laker shot goes up so as to take away quick strike opportunities — think of Rick Fox or Trevor Ariza last year — but Ron Artest often thinks individual defense before he thinks team first. Artest can be keyed on his guy sometimes too much, and if he doesn’t get back, and Kobe’s left to chase down Rondo? The older team could win with a younger man’s game.
• Kelly Dwyer (whom I suspect will pick the Lakers when he makes his official pick) on why LA can win:
No defense, no matter how stout, can top a triangle offense flowing the right way. Because it’s a read-and-react offense at its core, the triangle can overcome any amount of longish arms, if it’s run properly. The problem with this Laker team, up until about six weeks ago, is that it wasn’t being run properly. Too many screen and rolls. Too much orthodoxy.
If they revert, and run back to that screen and roll, the Celtics can load up. You don’t want a team withKevin Garnett on it loading up on your two-man game. Move the ball.
• Chris Forsberg has a wonderful timeline of the 2010 Celtics season, packed with the six or seven flashbulb moments—the opening night win in Cleveland, the Christmas win in Orlando (without Pierce!), the four-game stretch in which they lost to the Hawks, Magic and Lakers, and the rock-bottom loss to the Nyets.
My favorite part of the piece: Being reminded of this Doc Rivers quote after the C’s beat a Kobe-less Laker team in LA on the day of the trade deadline:
“I like this team when we’re in the hole. We haven’t played with a great rhythm the last 20 games; I get that. That’s fine. Whoever jumped off the bandwagon, stay off. I like this team. I’ve said it over and over again. I don’t think we needed to make a lot of changes — and we didn’t — so we’ll see if that was the right decision.”
Game 1 begins in 22 hours, 23 minutes.