"This is just ugly. Why can't we skip this game and go straight to OKC vs. LAL?"
"Whaddya know. I turned on the Celtics game and it turn out I'm watching college basketball!"
Those are the comments I saw streaming across the internet during the Celtics abysmal loss to the Sixers on Monday night. A 28-point second quarter (combined!) made basketball fans everywhere lose their minds. Why do the Celtics continue to play and win games without being anywhere close to aesthetically pleasing to anyone other than a few Boston fans?
It's a mixture of many issues, but one of the primary factors that needs to be understood is that the Celtics are a jump shooting team. They will never beat you at the rim for most of their shots. Rarely will they take more shots in the paint than they do outside of it.
In fact, according to Hoopdata.com, Boston was 22nd in the NBA in percentage of shots taken at the rim during the course of a game this season. The Celtics shot 29.2 percent of their shots at the rim. Similarly, Boston was dead last in the NBA in shots from within 10 feet (excluding shots at the rim) with 9.1 percent.
As the shot locations get further and further away from the basket, the Celtics' percentages only increase. 30.8 percent of Boston's shots came from 16-23 feet out, a number that was second highest in the NBA during the regular season. When the jumpers are going in, Boston is a beautiful team to watch. As a team, the Celtics held the fifth-best field goal percentage in the league during the regular season. But, with the pace Boston plays at -- one of the slowest in the league during the regular season -- it's obvious why people think Celtics' games come across as "ugly."
The Celtics are a phenomenally strong team on defense. During the regular season they held the second-best defensive efficiency. However, their offensive efficiency was near the bottom of the league. So, on one end of the floor you have a team creating stops and making plays, and on the other end of the floor you have a team that waits until deeper into the shot clock to take a shot, and the majority of those shots are jumpers. It's not the type of basketball casual fans like to see. It's a bar fight. It's ugly.
That same trend has continued during the postseason. The Celtics have the lowest offensive rating (ORtg) of any team left in the playoffs at 96.3. In case you're wondering, that means the Celtics produce 96.3 points per 100 possessions. In comparison, the Oklahoma City Thunder have an ORtg of 115.1.
Defensively, the Celtics are just as strong as they were during the regular season. In fact, according to basketball-reference.com, the Celtics finished the regular season with a defensive rating (DRtg) of 98.2 -- best in the NBA. During the postseason, Boston has been considerably stronger on defense based on its DRtg. The Celtics lead all playoff teams with a DRtg of 92.4. Similar to ORtg, this means that the Celtics allow 92.4 points per 100 possessions on defense. The worst team in the playoffs? The Knicks, who had a DRtg of 111.3.
Consider that Boston has an absurdly hard time scoring lately, and then understand that the Sixers are also a phenomenal defensive team. Philadelphia has the fourth-best DRtg during the playoffs (95.3). Combine that with the fact that Coach Doug Collins' youthful team is barely above Boston with an ORtg of 96.7 and you have an all-out bar fight of a series. Every game will look like the first two games of the series.
That's just one explanation as to why Boston's basketball is not pleasing to the average basketball fan. There are plenty of other factors. As stated before, the Celtics have played this type of basketball all season. Actually, for much of the Big Three's time in Boston the Celtics have played basketball that is rather hard to watch for other NBA fans.
Injuries are another major factor. At this point in any NBA season players are banged up. Boston is a different monster compared to everyone else. The Celtics' average age is 27. Boston has five players in their thirties and three of those guys (Pierce, Allen and Garnett) have logged more minutes than the other two combined (Marquis Daniel and Keyon Dooling). Paul Pierce is dealing with a sprained MCL, and that's not an injury that will get any better until he rests. This is the postseason. The only rest will be between games and during timeouts. He won't be much healthier than he is now.
Ray Allen is still dealing with bone spurs in his ankle. That will require surgery, though Allen has hinted that he seems to be feeling well enough that surgery may not be an immediate requirement. Avery Bradley has a dislocated left shoulder that is undoubtedly painful and pops in and out quite frequently. All of this to say, the Celtics are a jump shooting team as stated before, and having two of your best shooters ailing with injuries that greatly inhibit their abilities to create shots is not a recipe for pretty offense.
Pierce is having an absolutely horrendous time during the Philadelphia series against Andre Iguodala. He was 2-of-9 from the field in Game Two, and according to MySynergySpots.com, when Iguodala was guarding Pierce he only shot 1/6 -- with the one made basket being a fadeaway jumper early in the first quarter. For the series, he's 1-9 when Iguodala is guarding him, shooting 25 percent from the floor (17 percent from three-point range) and averaging only 10.5 points per game. He simply doesn't have the ability to get to the rim by himself. The few times he's been able to do so since his injury have primarily been because of multiple off-ball screens set by Kevin Garnett or Brandon Bass in order to free him up.
All of those injuries are impacting Boston's spacing. Rajon Rondo is left with the responsibility of playing heavy minutes and commanding an injured offense. Allen can't come off of screens with the same ferocity as before. Pierce can't get to his spots and create separation in order to find jumpers that he likes. It just isn't working. Instead, The Celtics are left with possessions similar to the few down the stretch in Game Two. The rest of the team moves around looking for space, and Rondo dribbles out the shot clock only to heave an errant jumper when nobody was free enough off of the multiple down screens set by Bass and Garnett. It's not pretty.
For the last two games before Game Two, Boston was able to ride Kevin Garnett. His all-world performances in Game Six of the first round series against Atlanta and Game One against Philadelphia were the catalysts in Boston's wins. Coach Doc Rivers stated after Monday's Game Two that establishing Garnett was the primary game plan, but that Boston simply didn't go to him enough in the post. He scored 15 on 7-of-12 shooting and had 12 rebounds, but a few more plays involving Garnett in the post and the Celtics could have left Boston with a 2-0 series lead.
But they didn't, and people are left wondering why Boston is such a boring and ugly team to watch. The answers are there, though. The 2012 Boston Celtics will rarely be the most beautiful team in the league to watch. Of course, there's always the rare time when the Celtics are firing on all cylinders, Rajon Rondo is engaged on both ends of the floor and the Celtics looks absolutely unbeatable. Again, that's rare.
In the NBA, where entertaining offense is valued more than a staunch defense, a high defensive rating is not going to be as appreciated by the masses when the final score looks like a halftime score of a "much more exciting" Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers game. But that's the way the Celtics play, and for the rest of their 2012 postseason campaign, don't anticipate that changing any time soon.
They aren't getting much healthier, and Boston has some issues to figure out offensively. There is no doubt that the entire team has to be more engaged in order for the Celtics to be effective. The spacing has to get better. Kevin Garnett has to be established early and often, and when he or Pierce are doubled, other guys have to move to space to make the game easier. Until then, the Celtics will continue to make every single box score look like that of a Southeastern Conference basketball game. It will be ugly, but then again, what did you expect?