Celtics Getting Ahead of Themselves

May 18, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett (5) gives the ball to the official after a foul call during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers in game four of the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Arena. The Sixers defeated the Celtics 92-83. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Looking back at May 16th "Per Diem" article by John Hollinger at ESPN Insider, which was written after the Celtics-Sixers series was tied after 2 games, I found a little bit of comfort. Since the C's lost on Friday to drop back to 2-2 in the series, my hopes of being one of the 31% of fans at CelticsBlog that thought it would be the "Celtics in 5 games" were dashed. Most (43%) thought that the Celtics would win in 6 games, but the truth will likely be Boston in 7 because that's just how the Celtics seem to handle home-court advantage (HCA) since Garnett and Allen arrived.

Before the Celtics trouncing of the Sixers in Game 3 and their demise in the last 3 quarters of Game 4, Hollinger proclaimed that the series has "7 games written all over it". It certainly does at this point.

Boston has the HCA, and so still has a slight edge to winning the series . . . incorporating some power ratings into the probability equation, TeamRankings.com currently has the Celtics' odds of winning at 56%. Just what were the "Celtics in 5" contingent seeing through those green-colored glasses - a green smoke cloud rising up after the dominating Game3 win didn't help the emotional stability of the Celtics homers such as myself.

The Celtics were heavily favored at the outset of this series because their starting five simply has more talent and have put up better numbers than the Sixers starting five during the course of the regular season. As Hollinger stated:

"Boston's Rondo-Pierce-Bass-Garnett group, regardless of who plays the 2, was plus-12.3 points per 48 minutes according to NBA.com's advanced stats tool. For the Sixers, the starting five they've used in the playoffs was a ghastly minus-21.2 in the regular season; even if one subtracts newly promoted Evan Turner from the equation, the other four were minus-0.7 together."

But then comes along the 76ers bench. Philadelphia has had one of the best benches all year and they are proving it in these playoffs. Taking a quick look at production of the bench versus starters, Philly's bench is one of the few teams that has a bench that actually outperforms the starters on a per minute basis. Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young and Jodie Meeks make a formidable trio of scorers that Philly uses to close out games, and indeed they were game-changers in the comeback victory on Friday. Of course, Andre Iguodala has been proving to be a clutch performer time and again as well.

Looking at the plus-minus for Game 4, Ray Allen - who has become Celtics token "scorer off the bench that used to score" - was a horrible minus 24 for the game while Lou-Will for the 76ers was a plus 28. These numbers don't lie, and the Celtics had better find an alternative to relying on Ray. Ray is certainly better than what he's been able to serve up, which simply points to his right ankle injury being a severe limitation to his defensive play, and has more obviously been a factor in his shooting. His free throw shooting as been a dismal 60% in the playoffs and he has a 28% 3-point pct. Ray Allen - a premier free throw shooter - shooting 60% from the line? Is that worth trotting out as the Celtics go deeper in the playoffs?

At this point, why not get some energy out there with the stable of guards the Celtics have in Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic? But the one guy I'm waiting for is the Celtics' E'Twaun Moore Moment that was predicted by Doc Rivers at the end of the regular season.

"E'Twaun, who no one talks about, he's going to play in the playoffs somewhere and help us in a game."

As Peter May wrote, Celtics fans had a brief glimpse of what Moore is capable of doing when he had 16 points in 18 minutes in helping the Celtics rally from a 27-point deficit in Orlando to beat the Magic on Jan. 26. That's Lou Williams territory if you ask me.

Hollinger's BOS-PHI review also made an interesting point in citing evidence that the early-season performance is a better indicator of playoff success than a team's play in the late season. As shown below, recall that the 76ers were the team that demonstrated the the early season acumen that would have them favored over the slow-starting Celtics in this series.

22-game trimester Celtics 76ers
period cumulative period cumulative
1st 12-10 10-12 16-6 16-6
2nd 11-11 23-21 9-13 25-19
3rd 16-6 39-27 10-12 35-31

So the Celtics are where they are supposed to be right now and they are going to need a dominant Kevin Garnett, the same guy that was a monstrous plus 51.5 per 48 min during the Hawks series and who continued with more dominating games in Games 1 through 3 against the Sixers, but then faded to being no more than a mere role player in Game 4.

One thing to look for as a litmus test for tomorrow's game is the Celtics assist and turnover totals. Donnie Marshall of CSNNE had mentioned that when the Celtics have 25 or more assists and less than 13 turnovers they have a high rate of success. Looking at the information - definitely the assists seem to be a good predictor . . .


Celtics_as-tos_medium

The Celtics only had 23 assists and a whopping 16 turnovers in Game 4, so this rule indeed rings true in these playoffs. But I say give Ray a rest when the 4th quarter rolls around, and rely on their healthy guys and the tenacious perimeter defense as KG locks down the paint with friend Ryan Hollins and Brandon Bass. And Doc, don't forget to cash in on that E'Twaun Moore moment either.

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