February 10, 2012
Game 26: Boston Celtics (14-12) at Toronto Raptors (9-19)
The Boston Celtics followed up Thursday’s tough-to-swallow overtime loss to their most hated rival with a bona fide stink bomb against their favorite punching bag, losing 86-74 to the Toronto Raptors. Including Friday’s loss, the Celtics are 42-22 all-time against Toronto, with a 16-3 record against them during the Garnett era.
The Raptors offense is not very good. To illustrate this, we made a graph.
This graph shows the relationship between the Raptors’ field goal attempts and their shooting percentages from the five main shooting ranges. We express this relationship by comparing the Raptors’ attempts and percentages with the league averages and plotting the differentials. If the plotted point is above zero, the Raptors are above league average. If it is below, they are below average.
For example, Toronto takes 22.5 shots at the rim per game, compared to the league average of 23.9. The difference of -1.4 is plotted in blue on the far left of the graph. They make 61.4% of these shots, while the league makes 63.0%. The difference of -1.6 is plotted just below the first blue mark in red. The Raptors are slightly below average in scoring at the rim, which they attempt to do at a frequency that is also slightly below average.
Things start to get interesting as we move to the right. We see that the Raptors have a capable mid-range game, at least compared to the rest of the league. They convert from 3-9 and 10-15 feet at clips of 39.0% and 38.6%, which are +1.8 and +0.8 from the average. While they’re more accurate than most from this range, they shy away from the shot, with attempt differentials of -2.1 and -1.3.
For the grand finale, we look at the long two. The Raptors love to shoot from 16-23 feet, taking 23.2 shots per game, 3.0 more than the league average. This is too bad, because they make only 32.2% of those shots, compared to the NBA’s 37.6%.
Below is the data used for the graph, along with the Raptors’ league ranking in both areas at each distance.
While the Raptors play passable defense (defensive efficiency rating of 100.6, compared to the league average of 100.2) and can bang the boards a bit (defensive rebounding rate of 75.67, fourth in the league), they shoot themselves in the foot by taking shots they can’t make and not taking shots that they can. As such, the Raptors rate in the bottom five of the league in offensive efficiency (95.0, compared to the league’s 100.2) and true shooting percentage (50.0, compared to 52.2).
We present all of this to point out that the Raptors are a thoroughly beatable team, especially with top scorer Andrea Bargnani and key reserve Jerryd Bayless looking sharp as daggers on the sidelines.
JB is very close to a choice look with the silver suit, but he blows it with the too-wide, wrinkled tie in the exact same color. After five seasons in the most fashion-conscious league going, one would think he’d have picked up a thing or two by now. With Bargnani available as a role model, however, we’re confident that his game will improve in no time.
Beatable or no, the Celtics did not have a win in them Friday night. Coming off the previous night’s overtime loss to the Lakers, the C’s looked exhausted and out of sync. Pitted against an opponent prone to extended bouts with offensive ineptitude, things got fairly ugly fairly often. The game could best be summed up with a recap of this series of possessions spanning ninety seconds in the second quarter:
- Celtics: Missed shot, offensive rebound, Raptors foul (non-shooting);
- Celtics: Raptors shooting foul on Paul Pierce (makes both);
- Raptors: Turnover (palming, Leandro Barbosa);
- Celtics: Turnover (bad pass from Chris Wilcox to Paul Pierce, out of bounds);
- Raptors: Turnover (bad pass from DeMar DeRozan to Leandro Barbosa, out of bounds);
- Celtics: Missed shot (three-pointer, Ray Allen);
- Raptors: Missed shot (Jose Calderon, long two, doesn’t hit the rim);
- Celtics: Turnover (bad pass from Paul Pierce to Chris Wilcox, out of bounds);
- Raptors: Celtics shooting foul on DeMar DeRozan (makes both).
The Celtics struggled mightily to score in the first quarter, managing only 14 points on 30.8% shooting. Though their shooting would improve as the game went on, rounding out at 44.6% for the night, the initial deficit was too large to overcome. Boston never led during the game and ultimately lost by 12, the same margin that they trailed by at the end of the first quarter.
There were two numbers that jumped out at us to explain how the Celtics lost. The first: during Celtic losses, opposing teams average 43 points in the paint, compared to 36 during Celtic wins. The Raptors scored 42 points in the paint Friday night. The second: the Celtics are the best three-point shooting team in the league, connecting on 40.3% of their attempts from downtown. During losses, they shoot them at a rate of .175 per field goal attempt, compared to .230 during wins. Against the Raptors, 10 of their 65 field goal attempts were threes, for a three-point rate of .154.
Sloppy play, points in the paint, not getting off the shots they like: sounds like a team that could use a break to us. When the lockout ended and the announcement of a 66-game/123-day schedule was made, we at the Kuts steeled ourselves for a regular season that would often be frustrating but would hopefully pay off with a spirited playoff run. We reminded ourselves of the 2009-’10 season, which saw the Celtics follow up a 32-18 start by going 18-14 after the All-Star break, disappointing many by finishing with the four-seed. In March, one writer summed up the attitude of a significant block of fans, writers and broadcasters, declaring them an inadequate bunch of let-downs who had them righteously “pissed off” because they lacked “the character of a champion,” and “[couldn’t] compete with the league’s elite.”
Of course, the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Lakers in seven games, playing the last two without their injured starting center. On the way there, they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers (best record in the league) and Orlando Magic (second best record in the league) in six games apiece. Along the way, we learned that the stumble down the stretch was the unfortunate by-product of a larger plan: get into the playoffs healthy, fresh, and well-positioned to get into a groove.
Do the Celtics have it in them to make another run at the Finals this year? Eh, probably not. But they’ve got a playoff run in them, and a mid-season loss to the dregs of the league on the second night of a back-to-back will likely have nothing to do with how far it goes.
This is all neither here nor there, because the real story of the night was not heavy legs, turnovers, poor shooting or worse passing. It wasn’t the Celtics’ title hopes or lack thereof. The real story, as always, was Avery Bradley.
After suffering a right shoulder injury during Tuesday night’s game against the BobCats, Avery was left out of the rotation for Thursday night’s matchup with the Lakers. Though Doc Rivers intended to rest him for a second consecutive game, Avery checked in with 1:05 remaining in the first quarter and Boston trailing 25-10. As it would be for much of the game, the Celtics’ play had been “awful,” and Doc was “desperate for energy.” Mere seconds later, Avery provided a burst.
With Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Mikael Pietrus behind him, Bradley pressured the very Pooh-like Anthony Carter in the back court. From this angle, it looks like Anthony’s about to get mugged outside a 24-hour donut shop.
As the two crossed the half court line, the Raptors’ Ed Davis and Amir Johnson threw a double screen at Avery. We’ve seen opposing teams combat Avery’s pressure by using “the buddy system,” sending another player up with the point guard to keep Avery separated from him. We’ve seen them set back-picks on him at the half court line. We’ve seen them have anyone other than the man Avery’s guarding bring the ball up. We’ve never seen the double screen above the perimeter.
As Carter curled around the second screen to the wing, Avery recovered to front his man once more. The plan was to get the ball to DeMar DeRozan, who you’ll see streaking from the elbow toward the top of the key in the next image.
What happens next is a great example of what makes the Celtics such an accomplished defensive unit. Above, you’ll notice Kevin Garnett standing at the top of the circle just behind Amir Johnson. Amir is about to set a screen on Mikael Pietrus, which is intended to free DeRozan for a clean catch of Carter’s pass.
At this time, Carter has picked up his dribble and is ready to deliver the ball to DeMar. Garnett throws a branch into the spokes, nullifying Johnson’s pick by setting one of his own on DeMar as he passes. This allows Pietrus to catch up to his man and also disrupts Carter’s timing, causing him to pull the pass back, pivot, and look for help elsewhere.
Avery senses that Carter is out of joint and clamps down hard. Off the pivot, Carter raises the ball high into the air. Avery stands fully upright and knocks it out of his hands, taking it all the way back to the hoop and drawing a foul. He makes one of the two free throws.
With 7:42 remaining in the second quarter, Bradley delivered the ball from the wing to Garnett on the low block. Jose Calderon joined Amir Johnson for the double team. Off the entry pass, Avery spotted an open avenue through the middle of the paint to the hoop, splitting Linas Kleiza at the free throw line and the double team below. Garnett whipped a no-look pass behind his back, finding Avery beneath the basket.
As Avery caught the ball, DeRozan slid into place to contest. Bradley spun to free up space and put a shot up off the glass. The ball bounced off the rim, but Bradley stuck with it, springing up and tipping it in. The Celtics trailed 28-22.
Two minutes later, Avery checked out for good with Boston trailing 33-24. Doc later said that he should have given Avery another run in the second half, but opted not to as he sensed that enigmatic point guard Rajon Rondo was starting to pick up his game.
Here’s Avery’s line from the game:
Apparently, Avery’s been turning heads in Greece. Check out theweakside.net’s scouting report on Dr. B, which includes several video mix tapes of various aspects of Avery’s game, including the cuts to the basket that we’ve been raving about.