Before Tuesday's game against the Cavaliers, I talked about how important it was for the Celtics to push the pace on offense. Even after the loss to the Cavs where they only scored a season low 77 points, they're still 8th in points scored per game, but that's only because they're 5th in pace at 100.88 possessions per game. In terms of offensive rating (points per 100 possessions), they're only 19th in the league at 100.5. By comparison, the Warriors at #1 are at 112.9 and the Sixers struggle in last place at 91.4. The Celtics are a shotgun, just hoping that enough of the buckshot wounds the opposing defense.
The rub from last night's loss is that despite not generating a lot of possessions, Boston still created a lot of good open shots. Unfortunately, they've been doing that all year and it hasn't mattered:
Brad Stevens informed C’s are last in league in EFG% on wide-open shots. Deadpans, "Thanks for that uplifting stat."— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) December 16, 2015
Stevens further replied, "we gotta knock those down." Unfortunately, they're not. So many players across the board are shooting markedly worse than their career averages. Jonas Jerebko shot 40.6% from three in 29 games as a Celtic last season. After signing a two year deal, he's had the yips at 21.3%. In his rookie season, Marcus Smart made a lot of adjustments to his jump shot, but even while he was experimenting, he hit 33.5% from behind the arc. When he's played this season, he's at 23.8%.
And these are open shots the Celtics are missing. In shots where the closest defender is 6+ feet away, the Celtics are shooting 37.2% or an eFG% of 48.3. In just open shots where defenders are 4-6 feet away, Boston is 6th in the league at generating those looks. They're averaging 25.3 open field goal attempts per game, but only making an eFG% of 48.1%, good for 24th in the league.
What's scary is that the shooting on Tuesday night was even worse. The Celtics' offense created 51 uncontested looks (to the Cavaliers' 40), but only hit 18 of them for 35.3% shooting. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk were both notably 1-for-6.
Typically, the Celtics have owned the third quarter. After making adjustments at halftime, they're 7th in the league in net rating at 8.3. In their 14 wins, that net rating goes up astronomically to 23.0. Against Cleveland, Boston imploded, hitting only 5-of-22 including 1-for-11 from beyond the arc. Brad Stevens said "we were in mud a little bit on offense" and talked about how the team didn't generate pace in the second half.
I don't think Stevens is talking about creating turnovers, getting up and down the floor, and generating extra possessions; he's talking about moving deliberately on offense and passing the ball with purpose. In the third quarter, the Celtics seemed to just go through the paces station-to-station instead of really generating momentum in order to create passing and driving lanes.
Here are some fourth quarter GIFs from Friday's OT thriller against the Warriors. Entering the final frame, Boston was down 7 but in just over three minutes, they erased the deficit and built a 3-point lead. The ball moved with purpose and every dribble and screen incrementally created space until someone finally used that space to become a playmaker:
When the offense has been clicking, that's been Celtics basketball. The team didn't seem to move like that in the turd quarter, but it's not like they were taking bad contested shots. The Celtics missed all these:
The Celtics have shot poorly to start the season, but not this bad and when you're going up against the defending Eastern Conference champs, shooting below your below average numbers won't cut it. It's an anomaly that we can all forget, but it's cold shooting days like this where you kinda wish you got the pump faking Kelly Olynyk or the overdribbling Evan Turner or the ultra aggressive David Lee to take it to the hole. Maybe the Cavs' size dissuaded them from going inside (outscored 44-24 in the paint) but, I still think the Celtics got great shots in the third quarter, but they were just buried in bricks and couldn't get themselves out of the rubble. Some of those go down and the defense has to respect the shot more and then the key opens up. Celtics play in Cleveland in 52 days.
It's a make-or-miss league and last night was just a make-or-miss game and unfortunately, it's been a little bit of a make-or-miss season with the Celtics missing more than normal. Brad Stevens seems convinced that the law of averages will eventually kick in and Boston should receive an uptick in their offense. Are you?