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Prescription: Chill Pill — How a Team Can Work Hard and Still Lose

 

Eeeeeeeeasy now.

The cry going up from coaching staff, media people, Celtics Hub commenters, and Celtics players alike is that the effort just wasn’t there the past two games. The commenters in particular have been committing mass ritual message-board suicide over the fact that the Celtics obviously don’t care about the regular season or the fans or their own families or America, because otherwise they would have tried harder and won these games. I felt this way for a few hours Friday night and today (I went to Friday’s game, probably the only one I’ll see in Boston this year, and sustained the double whammy of not seeing Durant and then watching the Thunder win anyway). But now is the time when we must pause and reflect.

Put it this way: if the Celtics weren’t trying hard in the last two games, then this team is really, really good. Because a lot of the things that led to the C’s losing these games had essentially nothing to do with effort. Or mindset, or awareness, or who wanted what how much. Here are those things in list form for maximum readability.

THE OKLAHOMA CITY GAME

Point differential: 5 (essentially 3)

  • Oklahoma City was the worst three-point shooting team in basketball going into Friday’s game. They made 6 of 9 three-pointers, including one off the glass from no less a talent than Royal Ivey. They remain the worst three-point shooting team in basketball. Meanwhile, the Thunder shot a lower percentage than their average from every other distance.

Could the Celtics have been more aggressive closing out on threes? Possibly. But are you really saying you don’t want Russell Westbrook (14% on threes this year, 24.8% career, 2 for 3 Friday night) taking that shot? I don’t think effort is relevant here. Again: lower percentage from every other distance.

  • The Celtics shot 63% from the line. That completely sucks, but it has nothing to do with effort. This stat and the three-pointers constitute way more than the difference in the game, a game in which the Celtics shot a higher percentage on more field goal attempts, which actually does have something to do with effort.
  • Shaq was hit with the least explicable flagrant foul call I have personally seen. This was a play that 15% of the time probably wouldn’t have been called a regular foul. Them’s the breaks. Effort not relevant.
  • Glen shot and missed a lot of jumpers. Because he doesn’t care? Nah. I think he just really likes shooting jumpers. I’m going to post on Glen’s jumper relapse soon.
  • Russell Westbrook chewed up Rondo on Friday. Do we really think Rondo wasn’t giving his strongest defensive effort against Russell Westbrook, the other point guard who’s having a breakout-superstar season? At home? Without Kevin Durant around so the game was entirely about the showdown between them? No, more no, and most no.

This is what really happened: Westbrook lost Rondo off of approximately a billion screens and Shaq showed on none of them. Shaq hasn’t shown on a screen since his early days in the ABA. This has something to do with effort, but it also has a lot to do with inertia.

CONCLUSION: The Celtics lost this game because they were very unlucky from the line, the Thunder were shooting out of their gourds, and Rondo again had trouble defending a bigger, stronger point guard.

THE TORONTO GAME

Point differential: 1

  • Shaq shot 2-8 from the floor, including at least two plays when he was clearly fouled but wasn’t called for the foul. He was also a little too strong on a bunch of shots at the rim. I don’t think he missed those shots because he didn’t want them enough, but I guess it’s possible. (P.S. — Overall, as in the Thunder game, the C’s shot a higher percentage than the Raptors, although this time on five fewer attempts).
  • Ray Allen was fouled in the last 20 seconds. Them’s also the breaks. Effort also not relevant.
  • Amir Johnson was a 63% free throw shooter last year. He shot 9 for 9 today, including, you know, those last two. Did Amir make those because he wanted them more than the Celtics wanted him to miss them?
  • Semih Erden was comically bad tonight. Pretty much every time the Raptors went on a run, he was on the floor fouling everybody he saw and defending the post like an actual post. If you DVR’d this game, I encourage you to go back and watch Semih in the second quarter. He gave up four fouls in about about five minutes, three of which led to three-point plays. -19 for the game in 11 minutes. I don’t think he wasn’t trying. His shoulder hurts. He had several heated conversations in Turkish with the basket stanchion. Feel bad for the guy.

In other news, the starters were awesome and outscored the Raptors big today. Nate was +20, KG +15, Pierce +14. Hard to say they weren’t working hard enough to win. Pierce got to the line 13 times fercryinoutloud.

  • Most importantly, Boston was playing without its best player, the player without whom the offense can barely function. Remember when Ryan told you a few weeks ago that KG was being assisted on 86.2% of his made baskets? That number is up to 88%. Ray’s is 75.7%. Shaq’s is 72%. Tell me when to stop. Glen Davis’s is 77%. The team’s overall percentage assisted is highest in the league by three points. 26% of their **possessions** end in an assist. Stop? Okay.

Does anyone think Rajon Rondo should have played in this game? No. Nobody thinks that. And if not for a missed call and a missed fadeaway, they win without him.

CONCLUSION: The Celtics lost this game because Rondo was out, the officiating was terrible, and Shaq, Semih, and especially Semih had terrible games. Also, Bargnani had a great game for a shooting guard.

I know the players themselves are saying they didn’t work hard enough, so it seems dumb to tell them they’re wrong. I know this. But is it possible that either A) they’re going by the score like everyone else, B) they know that this is the only thing fans and the media want to hear after a loss, or C) that every player who says that is referring to everyone except himself? I’ll go with a 55% chance it’s A, 32% for B, and 13% for C.

Sometimes when inferior teams are allowed to stay in the game for long stretches, it seems like the good team must not be working hard enough to put them away. And sometimes they’re not. But I don’t think this is one (or two) of those times. In both games the C’s were below their average in turnovers. Yes, the Raptors had a bunch of fast break points, but they lead the league in fast break points. Yes, KG had a few boneheaded moments today, but was it really because he didn’t want it enough? I mean, it kind of seemed to me like they took these losses pretty hard.

Bad things happen to good people, people.

But it’s definitely possible that I’m in denial here.

  • malefax

    Ray Allen wasn't fouled in the last 20 seconds, for the record. He just lost his dribble under pressure, which happens sometimes.

    The basic story of the Raptors game was that the Celtics starters ate the Raptors lunch but the Celtics reserves lost the game. Even with how outrageously Erden and Davis were abused, Paul Pierce could have easily won the game and then everyone would be talking about how clutch he is. Close games can go either way: this game was close because the Raptors bench annihilated the Celtics bench.

    • MikeD

      I am perplexed by some people claiming Ray wasn't fouled. Watch the play, barbosa clearly got him right around his elbow, causing him to lose the ball. It's clear as day.

    • MikeD

      Also there was even a shot of Barbosa laughing after the play happened because he knew he got away with one

    • JP-

      Barbosa fouled Ray, it was clear. At the very least it was as clear as the foul Pierce committed on Amir Johnson before he sunk the two free throws.

    • Devin_in_Maine

      The replay clearly showed that Ray was fouled. He wasn't under pressure. Barbosa was attempting an INTENTIONAL foul. Down by one, the Celts could dribble out the clock, and the Raptors knew their only chance was to foul and then try for a three. Unfortunately there was a third option…foul the ball handler intentionally causing him to lose the ball. Then have the refs not call the foul. Then instead of giving the Cs the make-up non-call under the basket with a few ticks left on the clock, they bailed Toronto out.

      Say what you want about the Cs effort or effectiveness or whatever for the first 3.95 quarters. The Celtics won this game if the officials had called the last 30 seconds correctly. They were AHEAD when the officials took over.

    • grnmtnby

      you need glasses

  • Morpheus

    Tell me how the hell does Barballsa knock the ball loose from Ray when his hands are NOWHERE NEAR THE BALL….look at the replay it's there, no way in hell could Barballs have knocked that ball loose from Ray from behind and he didn't even touch the ball…..The only way it could have been knocked loose was knocking Ray's arm/elbow…which we all know is a REACH IN FOUL…Meh it's over anyway

    And for the record HD…you must have not listened to the post game interviews.Doc,PP and KG said it came down to lack of effort and coming in flat and light. So it was about a lack of effort…..it was obvious

  • Idaho

    Definitely over-reaction for the majority of people. We have seen much worse from the celtics even the last few years. I am not overly worried. The bench play of the last 5 games seems completely opposite of the first 5 games. Delonte is not himself yet and despite the core of this team being familiar with each other guys are still figuring each other out.

    I am disappointed in the apathetic play. There are times when people are playing without any urgency. That is unacceptable and players should be vilified for it but I agree that it is getting taken too far. This team is fine, how could you be surprised by the let-down versus OKC? We have seen this before, I hate it, but the other aspects of this team out-weight the lackluster effort at times.

    • JP-

      I wouldn't be worried, if they weren't going to play (read: lose to) Atlanta tonight. I just don't see anyway they can lose like that to the Raptors then come back and beat Atlanta, it won't happen.

  • CG12

    Barbosa clearly hit Ray on the elbow. Clear as day.

    I don't really understand the whole "no effort" complaint. No one goes out there thinking "I'm not going to try today." Except maybe Rasheed Wallace. Some teams and some guys are high energy and some aren't. The Cs aren't especially high energy, and so on days like yesterday when things don't bounce their way, fans say they weren't trying. As pointed out in this post, that isn't true. Things just didn't go their way.

    It is true that the Cs budget their minutes and intensity in a manner which allows this to happen a little more often than it would in the playoffs. PP, especially, gets after it more consistently when something is really on the line, but there is only so often you can turn it up to 11.

    Go easy on Semih. He was often put in bad positions and forced to foul by his teammates' defense. I don't mind seeing him foul dudes, as long as it is in service of cleaning up shaky team defense. "No _________ layups." To me, a bigger point is Rondo and Nate's poor pick-and-roll defense. They are both gamblers, and often go for the steal when trying to recover over a pick. It usually doesn't work and ends up putting a helping big in a bad spot. There is just no way Shaq is going to successfully deal with that. You can see the difference when Delonte is in. He closes hard on his man to make sure he can challenge the shot. And it works. Westbrook didn't start missing in the 4th for no reason. Rondo typically swipes, misses, and then kind of stands around, not really trying to get back to his man, and producing a potential mismatch. Rondo is a phenomenal defender, because of his quickness, but he could be so much better if he focused more on containing his man for most of a possession, and only turning up the pressure when appropriate (trap, clock running down, etc.)

    • Jay P

      I agree with this, when guards gamble, it opens up the lanes and forces big man to close out. This means a lot of fouls for them attempting to stop easy lay ups.

      Can't blame Semih on that, we also have to remember this is a rookie, who barely knows the language (and has difficulty communicating on defense) and is still learning his place on the team. Lay off a bit, he's exceeded everyone's expectations so far (since there were none) but we need to remember he's still got a long way to go.

      Officiating was awful all night on Toronto, the fouls on Shaq are getting ridiculous. It happened with OKC too, anytime a player gets anywhere near him, they just fall down, and the Refs are blowing the whistles. He can't even breathe in the lane without a foul being called, the bias is ridiculously apparent.

      Finally, Barbaso fouled Ray, if you watched that replay and didn't see his hand clearly contact his elbow, then get your eye checks, cause you're as blind as the refs out there were. The ensuing foul on Paul was equally as suspect, how you call that and give a team free throws to win the game, after you just no called in their favor the possession before, is beyond me.

      Stern is a prick and his officials are ruining Basketball.

    • hdavenport

      Dead on about Rondo's pick and roll D. He's gotten a lot of positive reinforcement for the steals he racks up that way, but with some guys it definitely hurts more than it helps. I think he's used to Perk slowing down his guy on the other side.

      Semih, on the other hand: I tried to go easy on him because he's hurt, but three of those fouls still resulted in ______ layups.

      • CG12

        If saying Semih was "comically bad tonight" and "defending the post like an actual post" is you taking it easy, remind me never to get on your bad side. Semih's help D needs to improve and will improve. "Charge King" Davis, for example, used to be the guy a step late on every rotation, and now he is able to see the play developing and get there in time. Semih is big, surprisingly mobile, and seems to know how to play on both ends.

        The Raptors guy made an excellent prediction that Evans and Amir Johnson (and Bargs, I grudgingly admit) might give the Cs problems. They were a big piece of the Raps success.

        Great point that both the players and the fans have gotten a bit spoiled by having Perk patrol the paint for the last number of years. JO was a surprisingly good defender for the little we saw him, but it looks like there isn't much point spending time thinking or talking about him. Shaq is old and 400 pounds and Baby is 6'7.5", with shortish arms and mediocre hops. Not much D at the 5 spot.

  • James

    Nicely done.

    That said, I've seen more than enough of Ray losing his handle (usually off his foot) in pressure situations- great call by Tor in trading a few seconds of clock for a chance to make a steal.

    • Jay P

      Getting slapped on the elbow didn't help things either.

  • Devin_in_Maine

    Seriously? Ray Allen is the best FT shooter we have! This was a "must foul" situation. Toronto wanted to foul quickly and put someone on the line and then try for a three. They didn't trade a few seconds of clock for the chance to make a steal. They tried to intentionally foul Ray and got bailed out by the refs.

  • Kobe's Daddy

    I think people trying to say that fans are overreacting to the losses are delusional. Face it, this is gonna be another frustratin season. to the poster of this article, what's your excuse for the cleavland loss? I mean, come on. We're 9-4 and should be 12-1 if it wasnt for lack of effort. OK, that last game was given away by the refs, but the fact it was that close shows something anyway, and its still a loss. HOW MUCH MORE PROOF DO PEOPLE NEED that this team's mindset didn't just MAGICALLY change cus Sheed's gone? Seriously, losses to CLEAVELAND, a DURANTLESS THUNDER, and a close loss to TORONTO arent starting to make you see that this team is gonna have games where they dont show up? And the number one reason this should be concerning is because this is the START of the season, the time when we should be piling up wins because we all know what happens in the middle/end of the season. Every game counts and home court will come back and bite us in the ass.

    • hdavenport

      "Does anyone else get that weird feelin that if guys are relatively healthy and keep it goin hard, especially like the big 3 +1 right now, we might get 2 titles in a row?… just sayin.
      whos with me?"

      -Kobe's Daddy, 1 week ago

      I think the biggest issue here is that this team isn't QUITE as talented as we want to think it is. I do think they're in great shape to make a huge playoff run again, because of Rondo's improvement and because their game plans are better than any other team's. But they're going to lose a few games to inferior teams for reasons other than lack of effort.

    • Morpheus

      Totally agree, i can't understand how some people are missing the boat on this one.WE'RE LOSING THESE GAMES FROM LACK OF EFFORT.>>>>GOTDAMMIT

  • Jay P

    Sorry, Orlando is a half game up on them now. I stand corrected. Point is still the same though.

  • Morpheus

    Here's a prediction….Boston wins tonight,why?

    They'll come in strong and hard with intense defense. Effort levels will be up tonight…they'll be looking at their record and reaffirming themselves that they MUST win this one. Their next 2 are at home against….i won't say it….*whispering*(fairly easy competition). They have to stop this slide/funk.

    Come on Boston

  • I_Love_Green

    Alright alright. Lets all chill out, including me. Quick reminder: We have played 13 games this season, 13!! The season is way to long to be freaking out already. There's going to be games this year where they sleep walk throughout the enitre game because the team we're playing isn't elite. (See last 2 games). But there's also going to be games where they feel like playing even if its a scrub team (See Pistions, and Wizards games).

    This team will get up for games against the elites, but will lack effort (for most of the game) against scrub teams for most of the time. I don't think it'll be as bad as last years problems though.

  • Devin_in_Maine

    Agreed Morpheus! As a guy who often gets too caught up in the numbers, I have to remind myself that good numbers don't necessarily equate to good basketball. While some statistical categories are an indicator of a teams intensity, there is no way to really use statistics to win a debate on fire and intensity.

    You could see the difference. Instead of flying around the court, dictating the pace of the game, and working within their offense, the Cs were flying around the court (out of control at some points) and were forcing it. It was as if they thought they could fake the intensity by lots of fast movement. I think Nate Robinson's offense was endemic of this. He scored a bunch of baskets, but was jacking up a lot of shots that weren't really in the flow of the offense.

    I compare the difference in the Celtics intensity [Miami level intensity vs. Toronto level intensity] to the difference in Mike D'Antoni's experience in Phoenix and New York.

    When his 8-seconds-or-less offense was clicking in Phoenix, they were tops of the west and led people to write that he was a genius. When this style was tried in New York last season, it was like the scene around the Hoop Fever machines at Dave & Busters as 5 sugared up 10-year-olds jack up jump shots at a moving target as fast as they physically can.
    http://www.amazon.com/Hoop-Fever-Basketball-Arcad

    Just because the Cs are fast breaking and running around a lot does not mean they have a unified, focused intensity as a team…and they didn't against OKC or Toronto.

    • Morpheus

      LMAO..that analogy is funny

  • Marissa

    The Celtics had a bad couple of games, it happens no need for every to freak out. Its still early in the season. So are shots werent doing down and the other teams shots were it happens. But come on have a little faith people, we got a good deep team, were not going to win every game and there are going to be games we should have one and didnt but like i said its still early.

  • torpid bunny

    They didn't try against the Thunder. The defensive intensity simply wasn't there. They did try against the raptors, it just wasn't their day. The raptors seemed to have a strong game plan, shot extremely well, benefitted from a very tightly called game, and had some luck in the end. The raptors took it to the celtics but to me it seemed the celtics were trying to win that one. It happens.

  • FLBOY

    I say bad call on the ref’s yes Ray Allen was fouled so was Nate Robinson when he chased down that ball! Plus Doc Rivers is really playing the bench, so it will play off in the finals, with having the bench play more!

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