Needless to say, things did not go as planned last night for the Celtics. The Hawks successfully completed their regular season sweep of the Boston Celtics, leaving some fans to question the overall state of the C's and what the future holds for them as they continue to move forward with their season.
But back to the sweep. Stats can be inconclusive in basketball at times, as some scenarios simply cannot be measured by points, rebounds, assists, etc. But for those still searching for answers in the aftermath of the Celtics' fourth straight loss to the Hawks, here are some statistics that help paint a clearer picture:
The Early Bird Doesn't Necessarily Get the Worm: The Celtics had a higher first quarter scoring average than the Hawks in the four games, as they put up a respectable 23.0 points over the first 12 minutes, while holding the Hawks to 21.75 points.
It's Not How You Start, It's How You Finish: Despite Atlanta's slower starts in the four games, they certainly made up for it over the final 12 minutes. While the Celtics managed to average just 18.75 points in fourth quarters against the Hawks this season, Atlanta exploded in the final frames, posting a 25.25 points per fourth quarter average, outscoring Boston by 6.5 points. Atlanta scored at least 25 points in all four fourth quarters against the Celtics this season, while the C's posted more than 20 points in the fourth quarter just once.
Say It Ain't So, Joe: Despite both teams' leading men being named All-Stars this past week, Joe Johnson had a decisive scoring advantage in the fourth quarter over Paul Pierce. Pierce posted a 5.5 points per fourth quarter average over the four games, while Johnson brought the C's to their knees, scoring an average of 8.25 points in the four fourth quarters, meaning Johnson accounted for nearly one-third (32.7 percent) of Atlanta's fourth quarter scoring.
We Could Use A Little Help Out Here: Boston's bench, while depleted at times, simply didn't cut it against the Hawks this season. The pine guys managed to score just 16.25 points per game over the four games, compared to a whopping 29.5 points per game from the Hawks' bench. You won't be shocked to hear that many of those bench points came from a guy named Jamal Crawford, who posted 20.25 points (off the bench) against the Celtics this season. So, Crawford not only accounted for 68 percent of the Hawks' bench points, but he also outscored the entire Celtics' bench by himself. Sixth Man of the Year, anyone?
Attack The Glass...Or Not: The C's have been a poor rebounding team all season, but were especially inept against the Hawks. Atlanta didn't even post an overwhelming amount of rebounds per game - 38.75 to be exact. The Celtics for the season average 38.81 boards per game as a team, but against the Hawks, they saw that average drop to a lowly 33.75 rebounds per game. Al Horford was especially cruel, gobbling up 10.75 boards per game all by himself.
Making Matters Worse: Was the fact that Boston committed 16.5 turnovers per game against the Hawks this season, while Atlanta valued the ball (as it has done all season), giving it away just 12.25 times per game. The Celtics' turnovers turned into 20.75 points per game for the Hawks (!), while the Celtics managed to convert the Hawks' miscues into just 10 points per game.
The Celtics' rebounding woes and turnover issues have plagued them all season long. Besides injuries, these two statistics have really been Boston's achilles heel, and, if not corrected, will continue to haunt them come playoff time. A team might be able to overcome a significant amount of turnovers, but by limiting your possessions and chances to score, while simultaneously giving the opposing team more opportunities for both, you're setting yourself up for disaster.
It's interesting how a veteran team like the Celtics can't seem to keep their turnovers down. With Rajon Rondo at the helm (a few too many uncharacteristic turnovers last night), the Celtics should be better in this department.
Widening the Gap: The Hawks held double-digit leads in three of the four games, putting Boston in difficult holes to climb out of, especially given the struggles its bench faced. It was one of those season series where, either the Celtics' starters lost a lead and the bench either compounded the problem or was unable to make up any ground, or the Celtics' starters held their ground, only to watch their bench fall apart against Jamal Crawford. Either way, the Celtics found themselves looking up at the Hawks for much of the series.
Picking Up the Pace: The Hawks averaged a convincing 17.25 fast break points per game against the Celtics this season, while the Celtics lugged behind with asthma-filled lungs, posting just 12.75 fast break points per game. Slow and steady did not win this race. Usain Bolt would be proud.
Missing Their Mark: The Celtics rely heavily on their production from three-point nation, but against the Hawks, they managed to hit just 23 of 71 three-point field goal attempts, good for a repulsive 32.4 percent. Atlanta, on the other hand, had a jolly good time behind the arc in the series, hitting 27 of their 62 three-point field goal attempts, measuring out to 43.5 percent.
Ball Don't Lie: You're right, Rasheed. The ball doesn't lie. It's awfully sore from the number of times it clanged off the rim after you shot it. Wallace shot just 10-30 from the field in the series (33.3 percent) and a truly abysmal 3-18 from three-point nation (16.6 percent). He averaged just eight points in three games against the Hawks this season, but the stat that probably has so many people fuming is his 2.6 rebounds per game average. His perimeter preference truly hurt the Celtics against the Hawks this season, and if these two teams are destined to meet in the postseason, hopefully enough film will have been watched to illustrate to Rasheed that he needs to park his butt in the paint against Al Horford and Josh Smith.
So there you have it. 10 reasons the Celtics struggled against the Hawks this season. The C's still have slightly over half a season left to get their act together, which they will need to do, if these two squads are destined to meet in the postseason.