The Celtics-Hawks series went according to plan for the most part . . . win at least one of the first two away games in Atlanta and then hold court at home to take the series in six games. That is the recipe the Celtics followed in 2010 when they didn't have home-court advantage, but managed to beat the Cavs and the Magic to go into the Finals. But for the ATL series to conclude in six games, one guy was head and shoulders above the others.
The accolades have justifiably been raining down for Kevin Garnett. Garnett's scoring average was a very respectable 18.7 ppg, and he averaged a double-double with 10.5 rebounds per game. However, in these playoffs, Garnett's box score numbers don't seem to jump off the page when compared to the lines that Mr. Triple-Double Rajon Rondo, current MVP LeBron James, and well-rounded scorers like Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul produce.
Put coming off the Atlanta series, Garnett does have one particularly flashy stat: his plus-minus. Plus-minus is that magical statistical metric that indicates how the team is performing with the player on the floor, and the corollary is how well the team fares when he's off the court. It can be argued that if the team is winning when a certain player's on the court, that is the most proficient measure of value of a player's effectiveness. Below is the Plus-Minus Summary for the Celtics against the Hawks:
Celtics Plus-Minus Summary: Round 1 vs. Hawks
Min is percent of available minutes played
On is point differential when the player is on court, per 48 min
Off is point differential when the player is off court, per 48 min
Net or net plus-minus is the combined "On" minus "Off "value
The net plus-minus of 51.5 points per 48 minutes is not a typo . . . it is attributed to the Celtics outscoring the Hawks by 74 points with Garnett on the court (which averaged about 80% of the court time), and then was compounded by the fact that the Hawks had a 46 points advantage when KG was on the bench. This differential sets Garnett apart from anyone else's contribution on the team, and definitely highlights intangibles Garnett brings on the defensive side of the ball . . . the kind of contributions that don't show up in the box score.
The adjusted plus-minus (APM) provided by basketballvalue.com, as well as Oliver's offensive and defensive ratings further indicates that Garnett is still one of NBA best, and for the Celtics owners, validates them paying Garnett's large $21.2M salary this season.
Looking at the table above, it is clear that Garnett, Rondo and Avery Bradley need to be on the floor as much as possible due to their defensive contributions. We also can see that Celtics walking wounded may indeed be wounding the team . . . especially when compared to the regular season contributions of the Celtics players
The regular season net plus-minus numbers are provided in the table below from 82games.com.
Celtics Plus-Minus Summary 2011-2012 Regular Season
Compared to the regular season, Garnett elevated his effectiveness in this series as if he were a super hero. KG's per game points, rebounds, steals, blocks all went up as he anchored the team against Atlanta. Bradley also stepped up to be Robin to Garnett's Batman, but in actuality he was just continuing a trend of improvement he had when given the opportunity to play more minutes later in the season. Pietrus also had a major positive influence in his reserve role in the Atlanta series, along with Keyon Dooling.
Rondo was his normal "head of Voltron" persona, minus his Game 3 absence due to suspension, and lead the team is in his other-worldly 11.8 assist per game and 3.4 steals per game, and he was even efficient in his shooting while contributing a few threes.
Looking further down the list, we see a tailing off of Paul Pierce's effectiveness for the team, although he remains Mr. Clutch for the C's and lead the Celtics with 21.2 ppg during the series along with threes made, and was second in rebounds. He's of course indispensable and was recently feted as a Celtics great by Wojo and Spears at Yahoo.com. With regard to his lower than normal net plus-minus, his knee more likely has led to limiting his mobility on defensive and his cutting ability on offense. . . .
The numbers then start showing a significant downturn for Ray Allen and Brandon Bass. Greg Steimsma lost minutes to Ryan Hollins for good reason . . . but we know that match-ups were an issue for the Steimer.
Injuries obviously came in to play for Allen (ankle). Match-up problems likely were was an issue for Bass against the Hawks, but he was noted to have a sore hammy a couple of weeks ago, so it's unclear if he's 100 percent healthy or not. Thankfully, Garnett did not let playing against the younger and more spry Josh Smith (and Al Horford) get the best of him . . . no match-up problems for KG!
Going in to the second round to face the Sixers, the Celtics will have to rely on their Big Guy again as now the match-ups are definitely in Garnett's favor, and they will need to take advantage of that. Also, perhaps Steimsma and Bass can get some new life playing against the likes of Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young. As the Sixers like to run, it doesn't bode well for Ray Allen making significant progress, and perhaps they should take it easy with Ray this series, but look for Rondo and Bradley continue to make their marks as the Celtics take the series against the Sixers in 5!