The dog days of an NBA season can take their toll on even the fiercest of competitors. It may sound disheartening but the truth is those games don’t really matter. Let me qualify: if you play for a playoff lock like the Heat, Lakers, Bulls, Spurs, or Celtics, you can bank on being in the top half of the playoff bracket no matter how many midseason trap games your team loses. It’s a sad reality, but after two straight seasons of fast starts and long(er than what is comfortable) lulls, this is how some older good teams are built. It happened to the Lakers in the beginning of the season and now everyone is in near-unanimous agreement that they are the team to beat in the Western Conference.
So what accounts for the inconsistent play post Allstar break? Lots of things. But I would say there was a general malaise over this team after posting an impressive 40-14 record leading up to the break which explains the team’s 14-9 post ASG record. Luckily, one major change fans have seen in the team’s latest play has been a kind of aggressiveness. There are some guys that will never not be aggressive (Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, Delonte West) but that aggression can manifest in poor shot selection and fighting with Channing Frye’s crotch. While some Celtics will never lose their intensity, there are some perimeter players that can get caught standing around when the Celtics offense gets out of sync (Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo) and those two things alone can kill chances to win games.
The Celtics can still be characterized as in an offensive funk given their inability to win back-to-back games and their lack of focus on the offensive end but one major element for the Celtics’ recent success has been the play of Paul Pierce. Over the past ten games, I would submit to you that we have seen a dramatic shift in Pierce’s aggression level. We have seen Pierce attack the rim earlier and more often in games. We have seen Pierce crash the boards and come up with timely rebounds that either ice the game or give the Celtics a chance to comeback. We have seen far less standing around waiting to jack up a three point shot and back pedal.
This of course, is all according to the eye test. It looks like Pierce is being more aggressive but then again, how do you quantify aggression? I have tried. I have looked up Pierce’s Field Goal Attempts at the Rim, his Total Field Goal Attempts, and his rebounding numbers for the past ten games and there is hardly anything remarkably different. Aside from a few outliers like the games in San Antonio (11 rebounds), Atlanta (8 rebounds), and Charlotte (3 rebounds), Pierce’s numbers have not strayed much from his 6 rebounds per 40 minutes season mark. As for FGA and FGA at the rim, these numbers from the past ten games are actually lower than his season average on the whole.
Are the games the Celtics’ dramtic wins making it look like Pierce is playing better than he did during the slump? Is Pierce the engine that stirs the drink when it comes to ramping up the offensive execution or is he just the byproduct/beneficiary of the overall improved play from the Celtics?
It’s really hard to tell. Before I looked up the numbers** I predicted I would see an overall +2– meaning Pierce was averaging two more rebounds, 2 more FGA attempts, and some indication that he was taking it to the hole more often. Unfortunately, the numbers didn’t pan out how I had hoped which makes this situation even more interesting. Perhaps even when Pierce looks like he’s not being aggressive he’s still putting up impressive numbers.
What do ya’ll think?
*The post’s title was written by the world’s funniest dude. You may have heard of him here.
**All numbers were taken from the indispensable HoopData.com