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.