There are no moral victories--especially when it comes to the intertwined fates of the Celtics and Nets--but last night's loss in Brooklyn comes close. The great thing about these rare home-and-home series during the regular season is a team gets a chance to game plan like it's the playoffs. After Boston's 25-point win on Friday night, you wouldn't think that there would be much to be desired. And yet, Boston seemingly played better on Sunday and loss.
Here's the rub. In terms of shot selection, you could argue that the Celtics did a better job defensively last night where they were down by as many as 22 points versus Friday night when they were up by as many as 30. Check out the shot charts from Boston's two games against Brooklyn:
In the blowout win on Friday, Boston allowed 32 shots at the rim, 15 in the key, and 23 from mid-range. Two days later, they were able to limit Brooklyn in the restricted area (down to 21) and force them to more difficult shots in the paint (up to 27) and long 2's inside the arc (16). The problem is, Brooklyn just made more bad shots. After shooting 11-for-38 on long-2's, they hit a whopping 26-out-of-43 on Sunday. That's thirty more points right there.
But analytically, that's what you want in terms of shot selection. Long 2's are the least efficient shot. The league average FG% from the mid-range is 39.2% and while the Nets shoot a little better than the rest of the NBA (42.4%), you still want to force them to that distance.
Did Marcus Smart's absence make a difference? Sure. Smart's one of Boston's best on-ball defenders. Here's a snippet from Celtics.com's Marc D'Amico's Celtics.com game recap:
Brooklyn scored 111 points on 50.6 percent shooting at the Barclays Center. Much of the Nets' offense, be it via points in the paint or via jumpers, came off of penetration by their guards.
All four of the team's premier ballhandlers (Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Joe Johnson) tallied at least four assists on the night. When they took the ball off the dribble, Boston's guards were either a step too slow or a moment too late, which led to far too many uncontested shots for Brooklyn.
"They did a great job attacking us, let's put it that way," a visibly bothered Brad Stevens said of Brooklyn's offensive penetration. "We were not in their vicinity sometimes."
Smart certainly has a positive cumulative effect on the defense, but if you told Brad Stevens that 28 out of Brooklyn's 79 shots were going to be 12-23 feet jumpers from Andrea Bargnani, Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, I think he'd live with that. The Celtics have been ICEing pick-and-rolls all year to prevent guards from penetrating, giving big men the shot at the top of the key. Before Sunday's loss, that scheme had propelled Boston to a tie for 1st in defensive efficiency.
But alas, a loss is a loss is a loss. The Celtics did look a little lazy in the first half and the players know that. This team should never have been in that double digit hole. And if the Nets lessen their/our chances in the June lottery because of this win in November, so be it. We're no longer in the ping pong ball business. What's important here is that Boston had a plan and carried it out.
We've mentioned Jeff Van Gundy's saying "it's a make or miss league" so many times this season, but it seems poignant after such a frustrating loss. Teams are going to get shots in the NBA. The key is trying to get them to take shots that they don't want to take. The Celtics did that on Sunday night, but unfortunately, they made them. That's just the painful truth.