This was that loss to a below-average team that always ends a winning streak. It comes when a team gets distracted by the big game they have coming up, and they let the below-average team slip in and win because they underestimated them. The Celtics had that game last year against the Sixers to end an 11-game streak, and they had it again against the Sixers tonight.
Yes, the Celtics were victims of the trap game in almost every conceivable way. Except, you know, they won.
After a competitive first quarter, the Celtics let it slip in the second and, thanks to awful shooting and worse officiating, didn’t get it back until the end. In Rondo’s absence, the offense was utterly stagnant and the refs called basically every conceivable foul on the other end. Time and time again the Celtics blew their possessions with bad looks, but the Sixers let them stay in it by blowing their own. With sticky D and clutch free throws in the 4th quarter, the Celtics extended the streak to 14 by the grace of God Shammgod.
This is basically the highlight reel:
The Celtics drove their jalopy into a high-voltage transformer but still walked away without a scratch tonight. For example, the Sixers shot 43.1%, and yet they still somehow outshot the Magoos, who tallied a 38.8% on 31 of 80. Barf. That is exactly what the Wizards shot in that sad, sad game they (sort of) played against the Celtics over a month ago. Same percentage on the same number of attempts. But the Wizards lost that game by 31 and the Celtics won this one by 4. I have to keep saying it so I know it’s true.
Let’s continue to talk about that 38.8%, as if it were possible to ever stop talking about it. The Celtics hadn’t shot below 40% this season, and they’d outshot their opponents in all but three games. Guess which three in the comments: you might know one, possibly two, probably not the third. Here’s a hint: they outshot their opponents in three of their four losses. That puts them above fifty percent shooting for the year and a distant number one in the league.
But being number one in field-goal percentage isn’t a bonus for the Celtics; it’s pretty much what allows them to win basketball games. Their offense is totally predicated on scoring efficiency, and that’s because they’re 4th to last in the league in attempts per game, and that’s because they’re near the bottom of the league in turnover and offensive rebound differentials. The Celtics don’t care that much about how often they put the ball up, so when it does go up it has to go in at all costs.
But it almost never went in tonight, seemingly. Shaquille O’Neal was the only player who shot over 50%. And they still won. How? By dominating the offensive glass (12-6), taking the turnover battle (13-10), and winning all six of the game’s jumpballs. Credit Shaq there, because he jumped in the first four and he has to physically shove the Earth away from him with his feet to get in the air.
Oh, you can also credit Ray Allen. Right after we heard that Pierce might be taking point duties away from Nate Robinson, Ray controlled the offense and finished with the team lead in assists, minutes, and points while delegitimizing Jodie Meeks on defense. He ended up with a +17 in 38 minutes, compared to Pierce’s plus/minus of 0, and he did it with only one of five from three.
In the whole bonkers evening, perhaps the bonkersest part was how little resemblance this game had to the Philly game of two weeks ago (apart from the margin of victory). The Philly scoring leader in that game? Jodie Meeks with 19 and 4-4 from beyond. Jodie Meeks tonight? 3 points, all from the line. And that other game was a normal Celtics game, with the Celtics owning the field-goal percentage column (55.9 to 45.7) but keeping it close thanks to bad differentials in turnovers (+4) and offensive boards (-10).
So the Celtics win one close game, then win a completely different close game two weeks later. It’s insane how much they’ve committed themselves to a specific kind of game, but when the opposition doesn’t allow them to play that way, they literally beat the opposition at their own game. That’s a proper use of the word “literally.” With this team you can use “literally” the right way and not be lying, that’s how good they are.
WAIT, SOMEBODY MENTIONED A TERRIBLE SHOOTING PERCENTAGE
Yeah, we should probably go back to that. Why did it happen? Well, Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday are both good defenders. The Sixers in general are young and athletic and therefore good at one-on-one defense, which is what you get mostly when you don’t get the zippy ball movement of the Rajon Rondo offense. If the ball were moving more, the Celtics would be able to lose the Sixers on defensive rotations and eventually get better looks. But without Rondo, the offense is usually initiated by Nate dribbling the ball up, briefly deciding whether or not to shoot it from 27 feet, then entering it to Pierce at the elbow with his back to the basket.
Nate was off the ball about half the time tonight, and shot 3-5 from distance in that role (yes, one was in transition). But the C’s still didn’t have their characteristic ball movement system going tonight, and that hurt their offense pretty dramatically. Again, they won with some other team’s game.
THE OTHER THREE SIXERS ON THE FLOOR
I went to this game, and had a pretty direct line of sight to Tommy Heinsohn, who told the story of the officiating with his body language. He folded his arms about five minutes into the second quarter and never unfolded them. Occasionally he would physically turn around in his chair, unable to look at the monitor. I couldn’t tell what he was saying, but I could tell he was screaming even though he wasn’t gesturing with his arms, because his mouth was opening so wide. Gorman was afraid to make eye contact.
The truth is, not a lot of the C’s fouls tonight were completely without grounds. It was just that the refs just didn’t call the same game on both sides until the 4th. The C’s went to the basket very aggressively over and over (34 points in the paint to 16), but didn’t get the whistles the Sixers were getting for the same fouls. That’s how you get Pierce out of a game, and he snuck a few jabs at the refs in the postgame presser.
Plus, have you seen a player get T’d up this season for complaining in the flow of the offense like Garnett was tonight? I’m curious because I definitely have not seen that. Anyway, it’s nice not to have to care about this.
AB SEES D
With the exception of Shaq’s one-handed stufferson, KG’s door-slamming block, and Paul’s guts-pouring-onto-the-floor jam, the thing that fired me up the most by far was Avery Bradley’s D. The Remora had his modified oval dorsal fin sticking very hard to his guy tonight in his limited floor time. He came in to face Jrue Holiday, who was tuning up Nate Robinson with nine points in the first ten minutes. Bradley shut him down, and shut down Lou Williams for good measure: neither guy scored while Bradley was in the game, and he earned a layup off a gorgeous steal. He was scurrying, people.
Here’s hoping the crowds start vocally acknowledging his defensive effort, so he can one day be as confident on the court as he is picking up girls on Twitter every night.