At this point, it's pretty obvious that the Boston Celtics aren't a good basketball team, but they're not acting like one either. This matters a lot because, until recently, they were at least putting in close to maximum effort by battling for rebounds, hustling for loose balls, and by making the extra pass.
But these special plays -- which don't show up in the box score -- are happening less and less as the season winds down. During last night's appalling 111-102 loss to the 76ers, one play in particular stood out to me.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 5, 2014
I usually don't tweet much during games, but that play infuriated both the analytical and film side of me. I believe it is a sign that Boston's identity has changed for the worse.
Let's take a look at the play and why it was an example of something that can't happen when it's time for meaningful games next season:
After Brandon Bass grabs an offensive rebound, Philadelphia's defense is all of out position, especially Thaddeus Young, who left Kelly Olynyk wide open for a three-pointer from the wing.
Rajon Rondo read the play and made the right pass, but Olynyk decided to pump fake instead of taking the shot.
"Awgh, Olynyk had a shot there," said a disgruntled Tommy Heinsohn. "If that isn't his shot, then I don't know what is."
This decision by Olynyk is so bad because he was so open and has been hitting that exact shot with consistency lately. Just in the last 30 days, Olynyk is 8-of-16 on three-pointers from that area, which is a "points per shot" of 1.5. "PPS" is calculated by multiplying FG% (50%) and shot attempt value (3).
This would be the best look the Celtics would get the entire possession, but it's not the moment that induced me to tweet out my criticism.
After Rondo got the ball back, he ran a basic middle pick-and-roll with Bass, which drew the eyes of all five Philly defenders. Rondo, once again, makes the proper pass to the roll man, but what followed is an example of why the Celtics are the fourth worst team in the league.
Bass receives the pass and this is where any team that makes the "right play" would notice Olynyk and pass him the ball since he is wide open for a three-pointer. That would be a far more desirable attempt from a statistical point of view and simply because one player has an open look and the other doesn't.
Instead, Bass attempts the mid-range jumper despite being heavily contested by Young. The analytics disapprove, Brad Stevens disapproves, basketball traditionalists disapprove, and even the referee probably disapproves.
From that area of the court, Brandon Bass is shooting 37.1 percent (23-of-62), or a points per shot of 0.74. Despite Bass' overall success from mid-range this season, it hasn't come from the right elbow like it has in past years.
On the other hand, Kelly Olynyk is shooting 66.7 percent (2-of-3) on right corner three-pointers, which is a points per shot of 2.00.
But since that's such a small sample size, it's only fair to include his threes from the right wing, since it is a comparable shot attempt. In that case, Olynyk is still 40 percent (12-of-30), so a points per shot of 1.2.
No matter how you slice it, an open corner three-pointer is always going to be a more attractive shot attempt over a contested mid-range jumper. Obviously Bass wasn't thinking "Kelly has a higher expected point value if I pass him the ball," but you shouldn't expect him to and that's not really the point.
For the Celtics to be a great team, they'll need to make that extra pass -- to get a "good to great" shot attempt. The San Antonio Spurs, who Brad Stevens says play "perfect basketball," will always make that pass. Stevens' teams at Butler did it, and the Celtics did earlier this season, too. Take a look at the video to the right to see what basketball at its best looks like.
But times have changed in Boston and the end of the season is near. Players aren't necessarily mailing it in, but the little things that made them competitive for so long this year are now fading away.
This article isn't being published to knock Bass for taking the shot or Olynyk for hesitating, it's only to point out a play that I believe details just how far the Boston Celtics has fallen off in the past week.
My friends, this is the end.
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end