Aren’t We The Best?

The debate has been raging since the Celtics defeated the Pistons 92-85 on Saturday night, are the Celtics the best team in the association?  On Sunday, Sean Grande joined Celtics Stuff Live and offered his opinion on the subject. 

Nobody else in the NBA has lost fewer than 5 games by more than 5 points.  The Celtics have lost a total of zero by more than 5 points.  It’s not ridiculous to think that if you change three plays they could be 32-0.

Sean followed up with an e-mail on Monday with some specific research on his premise noting the following stats through this point in the season (updated through Jan. 6th):

LOSSES BY MORE THAN 5 POINTS

1. BOSTON – 0

2. DALLAS – 5

2. SAN ANTONIO – 5

4. LA LAKERS - 6

4. PHOENIX - 6

6. DETROIT - 7

7. DENVER - 8

7. ORLANDO - 8

As we were wrapping the final segment of the show Sunday night we got a call from Nick in Phoenix who left us the following voicemail, "do you guys think the Celtics are the best in the NBA because I don’t.  Go ahead and discuss that."  Unfortunately, we don’t check our voicemails until after the show has completed (I’m a one man band here in the home studio) and we didn’t get to Nick’s question, but we certainly would have loved to take Nick’s call and engaged the debate. 

What would have made the debate so enjoyable (and we invite you to call back this week Nick) is that there are so many angles for the discussion.  No one can say without question which team is the best until June arrives.  This Celtics club remains untested in the playoffs and has no laurels to rest on, like say, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.  But should we say that the Spurs are the best team until a new champion raises the trophy in June?  What fun is that? 

Relying simply on their current 29-3 record, the Celtics are the best team in the NBA; Right Now.  Does that mean I am predicting that the Celtics will win the NBA title based on this historic 32 game performance?  Of course not, we’ve got 50 games to go, but it is the most up-to-date and accurate information we have to go on up to this point in the season.  Again, I am not predicting who the best team in the NBA will be come June, I’m telling you who the best team in the NBA is as of January 8th, 2008. 

My opinion might change 32 games from now on March 22nd when the Celtics will have completed a five-game-in-seven-nights west coast swing after having faced San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas.  Will the Celtics enjoy the same success over this next 32 game set as they have over the past stint?  It’s unlikely, the schedule has been very kind, but before the start of this season no one thought they’d have the success we’ve seen up until now.  Remember, the Celtics were a newly constructed team without any significant bench players to speak of and would be considered lucky if they developed the chemistry required to win a championship before the three year window had run out on the PGA tour.  My point isn’t that you (meaning the pundits of the sports world) were wrong to think those things; my point is that this team has shown through 32 games that anything is possible for them. 

While the heat from fans basting in Patriots jealousy juice (like Nick from Phoenix) will likely continue, Boston fans should enjoy the glaze of the Celtics special sauce.  That was Grande’s message in his From The Booth article dated January 2nd. 

There's wisdom in this one game at a time thing, but if you spend this Celtics winter, the one you've been waiting two decades to enjoy, looking up for the anvil that might fall on your ahead, you're going to miss all the cool stuff in front of you.

Grande went on in Monday’s e-mail to place this team’s current success into a historical light: 

BEST NBA RECORDS THROUGH 32 GAMES BY SCORING DIFFERENTIAL

1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers                29-3    +13.28   (+425) 
2007-08 Boston Celtics                      29-3    +12.97   (+415)

1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers                 29-3    +12.22  (+391) 
1995-96 Chicago Bulls                      29-3    +11.63  (+372) 

The Celtics are on this list with three other teams, all of which went on to win their respective NBA championships.  So if this year’s Celtics can be compared favorably to the best teams in league history, then why is it such a stretch for some fans to consider Boston the best team in the league so far this single season?  Honestly, Nick, I don’t get it.  But here are some more supporting facts from Sean Grande wrapping up his e-mail in relation to the above chart. 

The '96 Bulls lost 5 games by more than 5 points, the '72 Lakers lost 6, and the '67 Sixers lost 10 (including a three game losing streak with losses of 6, 10 and then 17). 

The '73 and ’86 Celtics both lost a total of 7 games by 5 points or greater and it's also worth remembering that this year’s Celtics only loss of more than two points, at Cleveland November 27, was in overtime.

I’m going to say it again because sometimes you just have to beat that dead horse.  If this year’s Celtics can be compared favorably to the best teams in league history, then why is it such a stretch for some fans to consider Boston the best team in the league so far this single season?

Note:  Special thanks to Sean for accumulating these stats and throwing this 'net dog a bone.

In a follow up e-mail to Sean we both felt that some sort of adjustment should be made regarding his chart on scoring differential to account for the higher scores seen in the earlier years of the league.  As he put it, "In other words, there were a lot more points scored in a 1972 NBA game, which accounts for the greater margin.  As opposed to '96, which makes the Bulls number look worse than it really is…"  He was thinking an, "average score of a game/number of possessions in each of those seasons" and I was thinking less work.  Although his suggestion would be more accurate I decided that just going with the league’s average points scored per game would get us as close as we needed in order to give Chicago (and Boston) the credit they deserve.  I used 1/PPG (the league average) X 100 as a modifier.  Here's what I got (final record in parentheses)... 

LOSSES BY MORE THAN 5 POINTS (Adjusted)

'07-'08 Celtics = 13.16

'71-'72 Lakers = 12.07 (69-13)

'95-'96 Bulls = 11.69 (72-10)

'66-'67 76ers = 10.44 (68-13)

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