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Numbers don’t lie: improving defense and home court shooting should help Celtics in Game 7

Celtics “4” - Washington “3.” Just saying.

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics - Game Five Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Isaiah Thomas’ lost tooth.

Isaiah Thomas’ 53 points in overtime.

Otto Porter’s bloody nose.

Markieff Morris’ sprained ankle.

Kellygate.

All black funeral attire.

John Wall’s game-winning three.

The DC timekeeper burning over a second on Boston’s final play.

That’s the laundry list of controversy that has surrounded the only series to go the limit in these NBA playoffs. They’re all chapters in this book, but none will tell you how it ends tonight. There’s one school of thought that says: “Throw everything out the window. The drama, the stats, the analytics...nothing. This has become a one-game series and it’s winner-take-all in Game 7.” The flip side is that the past is always prologue and after six games of making adjustments and making adjustments to those adjustments, Game 7 gets whittled down to the few things that a team does really well. Here are some positive trend lines heading into Game 7:

Boston Celtics v Washington Wizards - Game Six Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

As this series has progressed, Boston has become better defensively. Despite losing three out of the last four games, their defensive rating has improved: 116.0, 116.5, 100.2, and 95.6 in Game 6. The Wizards have got a ton of credit slowing down Isaiah Thomas, but the Celtics have done quite a job on John Wall, too. Wall is still putting up 20+ points a game, but over that four-game stretch, he’s shooting just 36% and the Celtics have made him more of a volume scorer rather than a scoring point guard. His assists are down and his shot attempts are way up.

It’s not just the defense on Wall. To wit, for the series, the Celtics have forced the Wizards to shoot 55.3% of their shots either very tightly contested or tightly contested; by comparison, Boston takes 46.1% of their shots contested. The Celtics have adjusted to the pressure Washington is putting on Thomas and are still generating good looks for the rest of the team.

All year long, one of their greatest strengths has been depth and we’re seeing it in this series. Washington has game planned to stop Isaiah Thomas and force Boston’s supporting cast to beat them. They’ve had mixed results on the road, but on the parquet, it’s been a different story.

Think about how much Game 6 was an anomaly in the series. After scoring 27, 33, 31, 54, and 31 points in the previous games, Boston’s bench scored only 5 in D.C. Friday night. Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier combined for 0-for-10 on uncontested shots and 1-for-10 on threes. There’s hope in coming back home to Boston:

And:

There are more numbers that point to a bounce back game in the finale at the Garden. On the road, the Celtics are making 39.6 eFG% (7.5-of-24.0) on open shots and 59.0 eFG% (8.5-of-19.5) on wide open shots. At home, those numbers improve dramatically. They’re making 64.7 eFG% (15.0-of-28.3) on open shots and 67.3 eFG% (9.0-of-18.3) on wide open shots. That accounts for the +11.7 FG% and 31-point scoring differential between the Garden and the Verizon Center.

Maybe it’s too obvious to say that the better shooting team will win Game 7, but in a series where the home team has thrown haymakers, Boston should see a big enough bump in production to tilt the scales. Even after that heartbreaking loss on Friday night, there was a cool demeanor around the team. Asked at practice on Sunday about the pressure going into Game 7, IT replied, "Man, I don’t believe in pressure. I work too hard to be scared of any type of pressure." That confidence can’t be measured in numbers. but hopefully, we’ll see it on the scoreboard tonight.

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