January 23, 2012
Game 16: Boston Celtics (7-9) vs. Orlando Magic (11-5)
The Boston Celtics welcomed Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Von “The Dutch Cookie” Wafer (who is eating some serious dust in his Wikipedia photo) back to the Garden by smashing their new team in the teeth with a brick, dealing the Orlando Magic a humiliating 87-56 loss. You may have read that the Magic set ineptitude records with franchise lows in points and field goal percentage (.246), and a league-history low in field goals made (16). You may not have read that, since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came to town in 2007, there have been eight NBA games where a team has scored 60 or fewer points. The C’s clamped down with the stranglehold in four of those games. Since the dawn of the Garnett-era, they are the only team to have held more than one opponent to that low a point total. The most recent of these games was played less than a year ago, when the Celtics defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 87-56: the exact same score as Monday night.
The Magic shot the poorest field goal percentage of any team since the New Jersey Nets put up a .244 on the Portland Trail Blazers in 2004. Since 2007, there have been 21 games where a team has connected on fewer than 30% of its attempts. Once again, the Celtics held four opponents to less than 30%, more than any other team in that time.
The win put the Celtics at 1-8 against teams with a winning percentage above .300. Amazingly, they got this one without the assistance of other-worldly point guard Rajon Rondo (out with a sprained right wrist), shooting genius Ray Allen (jammed left ankle), and fire-starting bench scorer Mikael Pietrus (sore right shoulder), not to mention spare parts Keyon Dooling and Chris Wilcox.
As was the case with the previous night’s game (a 100-94 victory over the hapless Washington Wizards), we were unable to watch because we don’t own a television and it wasn’t available on League Pass Broadband, begging the question, “if Avery Bradley keys a record-setting defensive performance while a tree falls on him in the woods, and Krucial Kuts isn’t there to see it, does it really even happen?”
We’re about to find out. Instead of offering our usual deluge of Technicolor observational detail, we’ll dive into the play-by-play, the recaps, the write-ups, the game logs, the shot charts, and whatever other narrative and statistical treasure troves we can get our hands on, and do our best to build a story for you.
Because here’s the deal, friends: the real story wasn’t the Magic’s terrible shooting night. It wasn’t that, in 2008, the Celtics put the Miami Heat into the record books by holding them to the previous all-time low in field goals (17) which, combined with everything discussed above, underlines just how special the Garnett era has been. It wasn’t even the fact that we recently upgraded from sleeping on a two-inch thick mat on the floor to an actual bed, knocking one more expense out of the way and bringing us that much closer to the day when we’ll have a television to watch all of the games on. Not a chance. The real story, as always, was Avery Bradley.
“(It) started with Avery. The ball pressure — and then it led to everyone. They’re a great shooting team. … Everything had to be precise and it was.” –Doc Rivers
“They start talking to me, that’s when I know I got ‘em.”–Avery Bradley
Avery Bradley is a full-floor defender who shines brightest when he clamps down on the ball near the half court line, delaying the onset of an opposing team’s offense and harassing guards into losing the ball to the open court, which often results in an easy Celtics two. Bradley begins by pressuring his man from the inbound, sidling in a low crouch from side-to-side to stay in front of the ball as it moves up court. We’ve come to call this “the Tweaker Crab,” as he takes on the appearance of a hyperactive decapod.
Once the guard passes half court and looks to initiate the offense, Avery will shrink the distance separating him from his man to a few feet. He’ll look to disorient his opponent by sporadically sagging back a stride or two and then exploding into his space, or simply locking down on him, restricting his range of motion. He cocks his arms at the elbows and holds his hands at his hips like a gunfighter, looking to jab the ball away when the opportunity presents itself.
As we’ve witnessed in several games, opposing guards will sometimes burn 13 seconds or more off the shot clock between receiving the inbounding pass and initiating the first ball action of the offensive set; either a first pass or a shot. This causes a system breakdown for teams that run structured half court sets, reducing the amount of time they have to run their off-the-ball action and forcing them to rush or improvise.
Some guards will become frustrated and abandon the set entirely, focusing instead on attempting to beat Avery by taking him one-on-one. We recall Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks, who would wind the shot clock down with continuous back-spinning and crossing over in an attempt to create space, an effort that carried with it all the futility of a man swatting at gnats with a lead pipe. JET tried to take Avery to the rim and wound up with a couple of bad misses in traffic. He eventually resorted to popping Avery in the chest with his forearm, falling on top of him, and drawing a dubious defensive foul call.
“It got to a point where [Nelson] didn’t want to bring the ball up. That’s when I knew I was having an effect.” –Avery Bradley
According to the Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy, Magic guard Jameer Nelson struggled mightily to operate under Avery’s pressure, stating that he was “corralled so completely, [he] needed the time it takes an 18-wheeler to back into a loading bay to get the Magic into their offense.” CelticsHub’s Ryan DeGama graded Bradley’s performance an “A,” saying that “his ball pressure completely undid Jameer Nelson.”
We can see the effects of Avery’s defense born out in the statistics. Looking at Game Score, an all-in-one statistic that roughly summarizes a player’s productivity for a single game, Jameer Nelson had one of his worst games of the season, putting up a 1.4. This was largely due to his season high-tying five turnovers, which matched the total number of points he scored and included two Avery Bradley steals, a Sasha Pavlovic steal, a traveling violation and a discontinued dribble. All five turnovers occurred with Avery on the court.
Jameer also managed only three assists, though this was clearly a function of the Magic’s inept shooting. But what led to the inept shooting? In looking at the shot location data for the season, we see that the Magic have one very obvious offensive strength: three-point shooting. Orlando’s 60.2 eFG% (effective field goal percentage, which acknowledges that threes are worth more than twos and weights the numbers accordingly) is second-best in the NBA. Not only do they make the shot with great accuracy; they also shoot it in high volume. The Magic’s 24.9 attempts per game and 10.0 makes per game are respectively second-most and most in the league.
Take a step inside the arc, however, and the Magic’s fortunes flip. Orlando is shooting 30.5% on long twos (16 to 23 feet from the rim), second-worst in the league. As such, they avoid the shot as much as they can, shooting it 14.0 times per game, the second-lowest mark in the league.
The Magic attempted only 16 threes during the game, making four of them. They also shot 18 long twos, making five of those. The Magic missed shots all over the court – they shot 31.6% at the rim, down from their usual 63.3%, and they have Dwight Howard on their team – and certainly would not have won had they connected on threes at their usual clip and volume. It stands out to us, though, that the Celtics were able to push the Magic off of their biggest strength into their biggest weakness. All of that work was done at the perimeter, and it started with Avery Bradley bothering Jameer Nelson up and down the court, keeping the Magic from getting their usual sets going.
Avery was interviewed for a bit after the game. Here’s his final line:
The Magic will get an opportunity to see if they can adjust and slap The Celtics back on January 26. As this game is on TNT, we will be unable to see it because it won’t be available on League Pass Broadband and we don’t own a television. Maybe we’ll take another pass at making something by cobbling together other peoples’ work. While we feel like this might not be our thing, it can be kind of fun, like doing a collage.