The Boston Celtics did their best to hang on all night, but the San Antonio Spurs’ 32 point third quarter proved to be too much to overcome in the 104-93 loss. The Celtics played well in the first half and the two teams entered halftime tied at 48 apiece. However, a balanced scoring attack and 25 points off 17 Boston turnovers helped San Antonio seal the deal in the second half. All five of the Spurs starters reached double digits and the the Celtics failed to capitalize on takeaways, scoring a measly 4 points off 13 San Antonio turnovers.
After losing the last three games by a combined 55 points, Celtics coach Brad Stevens decided to shake up the starting lineup in order to manufacture more production. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger started in place of Vitor Faverani and Brandon Bass, respectively. The move paid off big time in the first half, as Jared Sullinger had already recorded a double double by halftime. He finished the night with 19 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
The Spurs starters contributed 70 points in the game, demonstrating what the Celtics have been missing all year. The Celtics currently rank 26th of 30 in points per game (93.4), and are averaging just 89 points per game during their current 5 game losing streak. Lack of depth was a major criticism of the team at the start of the season, yet surprisingly, the Celtics bench has provided a consistent and above average scoring effort this year - through 13 games they are tied for 7th in the league in bench scoring with 36.1 points per game. Offensive production from the starting lineup, though, has been a disappointment and a key contributor to both of the Celtics losing streaks this season; the team ranks 26th in the league in starters points per game with just 57.3.
Sullinger’s performance demonstrated that starting him at power forward should be viewed as the best option every night, rather than just as an offensive shake-up. The Celtics have struggled all year to find consistent scoring from their bigs inside the paint. In games in which Boston has been out-scored in the paint, their record is 1-7, but when they manage to win the battle in the paint their record jumps to a respectable 3-2. It has become abundantly clear that the low post is where Sullinger is most comfortable operating. Nba.com’s awesome new shot chart feature gives us the opportunity to examine where players like to shoot the ball, and how effectively they do so from each area on the floor.
Looking at Jared Sullinger's shot distribution chart, what jumps out is the number of shots he takes from within 8 feet of the basket. So far this season, Sullinger has taken 64 of his 111 shots inside of 8 feet, representing over 57% of his shots. This signals that not only is Sullinger comfortable taking shots from the low post, but also that the Celtics are doing a good job getting him the ball in situations in which he can get good shots from that area. The chart also shows that Sullinger, at the very least, has the capability and confidence to shoot the three point shot, as over 20% of his shots so far have come from behind the arc. Sullinger's status as a threat inside the post will force defenders to guard him closely and should open up mid-range shots for shooters like Avery Bradley and Jeff Green as well as open up lanes for drives to the basket. Furthermore, his ability to shoot mid-range jump shots as well as his willingness to take wide open three point shots will force defenders to guard him closer than they would guard Bass on the perimeter, which will help space the floor and facilitate scoring. Conversely, let's take a look at Brandon Bass' shot distribution chart:
Brandon Bass' shot distribution looks markedly different. As you can see, only 54 of Bass' 130 shots have come from within 8 feet to the basket, which is less than 42% of his attempted shots. Another 30%+ of Bass' shots have come from between 8 and 16 feet to the hoop, but the individual shot markers show that his preferred area to shoot from is between 14 to 20 feet from the basket. Once Bass is more than 20 feet from the hoop, his efficiency drops dramatically; opposing defenders know this and can take advantage of it. The single shot from behind the three-point line confirms what we already know; that Bass has never been an effective three-point shooter and never will be. Bass, then, does not intimidate defenses in the low post and does not allow the Celtics to space the floor nearly as well as when Sullinger is playing power forward.
What the shot charts also display is Sullinger's aggressiveness on the offensive end of the floor compared to Bass. Despite starting 12 of the 13 games this season at the power forward position, Bass has recorded only 19 more shots than Sullinger. In 367 total minutes this season Brandon Bass has attempted 130 field goals, which averages to one field goal attempt for every 2.82 minutes of playing time. On the other hand, Jared Sullinger has taken 111 shots from the field in just 241 minutes of playing time, which comes out to a field goal attempt every 2.17 minutes. This may not seem like a like a wide margin, but if Sullinger continues at that rate, he is forecast to attempt 169 shots in the same amount of playing time as Bass – nearly 40 more field goal attempts. Not only will this increase scoring amongst the starters, it should also help the team, which has been plagued by slow starts, to come out more aggressively right from the tip-off.
Boston will face the Eastern conference-leading Indiana Pacers at home on Friday night and will need all the offense they can get against the best statistical defense in the league. The Pacers defense leads the league in both points per game (87.2) and field goal percentage (.395), two of the most common measuring sticks used to evaluate a defense. The Celtics stunned the Miami Heat in Miami almost two weeks ago, and with Jared Sullinger in the starting lineup they have a much better chance of upsetting the Pacers tomorrow night in Boston.