On December 10th 2021 the Celtics finished a terrible road trip with a blow out loss to the Suns. Today is January 10th. The Celtics have gone 6-7 in 13 games over that month. Here are some stats I found interesting from the last month. (Most of what follows is based on math and counting I've done myself. I try to double check everything, but I can't 100% guarantee everything is 100% accurate.)
+3.3- The Celtics’ point differential over the last month
+3.3- The East leading Bulls’ point differential for the season
7- The number of teams with a point differential greater than +3.3
3 and 2- The Celtics’ record against those teams with a better than +3.3 point differential
4- The number of double digit wins for the Celtics
2- The number of double digit wins the Celtics had vs last season’s NBA Finalists
0- The number of double digit losses the Celtics suffered
1- The number of games in which the Celtics didn’t have a lead in the 4th quarter. It was the 99-97 loss to the Spurs.
These stats say one thing loud and clear- the Celtics were actually pretty good over the last month, but they couldn’t finish games. Every loss was close, and many wins were not. The Cs are that close to being a good team.
Here are some individual stats from the last month.
76%- Robert Williams III’s shooting percentage
5- The number of times in 11 games played that Marcus Smart shot 50% or better
35%- Smart’s 3 point percentage (He’s at 29.9% for the season)
42%- Smart’s 3 point percentage so far in 2022
25.7%- Al Horford’s 3 point percentage (He’s shooting 28.1% for the season)
35.4%- Al Horford’s field goal percentage (He’s shooting 43.2% for the season)
4.35- How many more points the Celtics averaged in the 5 games Horford didn’t play vs the 8 games he did play
8.4- How many more points opposing teams averaged in the 5 games Horford didn’t play vs the 8 games he did play
42.8%- Tatum’s field goal percentage, the 6 of 14 performance Perk called out, in the most recent Knicks game
45.2%- Tatum’s career field goal percentage
12- The number of games Jaylen Brown has played 30+ minutes over the last 13 games
19- The number of games JB has played 30+ minutes this season
14- The number of games this season JB hasn’t played in at all (just over 1/3rd of the season)
16- The number of games Jaylen has scored 20 or more points.
0- The number of 20 point games Jaylen had between getting hurt on November 4th vs Miami, and being fully healthy again on December 13th vs the Bucks. The Celtics played 18 games between 11/4 and 12/13.
11- The number of 20 point games, in 13 total games, for Jaylen since his return a month ago. One game he scored 19 points. He has scored 20 or more in 16 of the 20 games in which he has been healthy.
Marcus Smart has been playing well, and scoring fairly efficiently. Al Horford has not, but he seems to still be a positive on D, and overall. Jaylen was out with an injury, or playing with an injury, for almost half the season. Perk says dumb stuff.
Here are some play style/ scoring stats from the last month
+10- The difference in total passes per game in Ws vs Ls
+6.4- The difference in total assists per game in Ws vs Ls
-.3- The difference in total potential assists per game in Ws vs Ls
+14- The difference in total assisted points per game in Ws vs Ls
+6.4- The difference in effective field goal % in Ws vs Ls
Last season there was a pretty strong relationship between passing volume, potential assists, and actual assists. This last month that has not been the case. Winning vs losing seems more dependent of making vs missing shots. I had a look at some tracking data for the last month, and specifically in the NYE Phoenix game to see what differences might be behind those poor shooting performances.
37%- Celtics’ 3 point percentage vs Phoenix
33.6%- Celtics’ 3 point percentage for the season
Often the Cs win when they shoot well from 3. Against Phoenix they shot fewer 3s and made them at only a slightly higher percentage.
What follows are stats that reflect touches, so how many shots were taken on a play with a paint touch. It doesn't mean shots in the paint or from the elbow.
60%- Effective field goal percentage vs PHX
56.5%- EFG% in Ws
47.7%- EFG% in Ls
40- Paint touch points vs PHX on 85% shooting (47 paint touch FGAs)
21.5- Paint touch points in Ws on 75.3% shooting (28.5 paint touch FGAs)
16.5- Paint touch points in Ls on 61.4% shooting (26.8 paint touch FGAs)
12- Elbow touch points vs PHX on 100% shooting (12 elbow touch FGAs)
7- Elbow touch points in Ws on 79.2% shooting (8.8 elbow touch FGAs)
4.3 Elbow touch points in Ls on 55% shooting (7.8 elbow touch FGAs)
34- Drive points on 54.2% shooting vs PHX
27.3- Drive points on 50.8% shooting in Ws
24.8- Drive points on 43.7% shooting in Ls
7- Pull up points on 37.5% vs PHX
18.2- Pull up points on 36.9% in Ws
14- Pull up points on 33% in Ls
31- Points on catch and shoot on 39.3% vs PHX
33.7- Points on catch and shoot on 39.4% in Ws
31.7- Points on catch and shoot on 32.7% in Ls
What was exciting to me about the Phoenix game was the way the Celtics played on offense. Obviously avoiding Ayton and McGee made things easier, but the Cs played more through Rob and Al. They did more cutting and attacking vs kicking and shooting. They didn’t shoot especially well on jumpers against the Suns. What they did was create a ton of easy looks off movement. They had 28 assists on 45 made baskets. The first half was an absolute clinic. The Suns have only lost 4 games by double digits since their 1-3 start. The Celtics were the only team to beat them by 10+ without having a hot 3 point shooting night. The Celtics’ starters are almost all plus passers and can be very good cutters and finishers. I’m not sure why they aren’t playing that way more often. The Celtics are a poor 3 point shooting team, so kicking out for 3s isn’t going to be a great way to build an offense. Speaking of which…
Here are some 3 point shooting stats from the last month.
28.4- The Celtics’ above the break 3 point attempts per game (9th in the league)
32.8%- The Celtics’ above the break 3 point percentage (22nd in the league)
26- The Celtics’ above the break 3 point attempts per game in Ws
35.6%- The Celtics’ above the break 3 point percentage in Ws
30.4- The Celtics’ above the break 3 point attempts per game in Ls
30.5%- The Celtics’ above the break 3 point percentage in Ls
9- The Celtics’ corner 3 point attempts per game (13th in the league)
39.3%- The Celtics’ corner 3 point percentage (10th in the league)
9.5- The Celtics’ corner 3 point attempts per game in Ws
45.6%- The Celtics’ corner 3 point percentage in Ws
8.6- The Celtics’ corner 3 point attempts per game in Ls
33.3%- The Celtics’ corner 3 point percentage in Ls
The Celtics are probably taking too many 3s given how poorly they’re shooting them, but to make matters worse they are taking the wrong 3s too often. The Celtics are awful above the break. Marcus, Jaylen, and Josh Richardson are the only rotation guys shooting over 35% above the break (Pritchard is .2% away) over the last month. Jayson, Josh, Grant, Al, and Fast PP have all shot 50% or better on corner 3s. Part of why Smart is shooting better is he’s taking more above the break 3s, and making 37.8%. Horford is also taking more above the break 3s than corner 3s, but he’s shooting 16% above the break and 50% from the corner. His 3 point shooting percentage is dropping as a result. (PS- Schroder has been awful from everywhere that isn’t at the rim).
Above the break 3s are easier to create. Open corner 3s usually are the result of a defender being pulled away from his man, so penetration and ball movement. Against the Suns the Cs took 9 corner 3s and made 4. They took 18 above the break and made 6. The percentages were pretty much like any other win, but the volume of above the break 3s was much lower. That’s probably because they were getting to the rim and didn’t need to take those bad shots. These kind of stats suggest to me that the Celtics can get much better by just playing a style that better suits their roster. I suspect that ups and downs during games have a similar relationship to how the team is playing. ( I don’t have time to look into this stuff quarter by quarter, but maybe next time.)
I would love for the coaches to design, and be able to implement, an offense that really works for this team. Right now the Cs are still searching for an identity on offense, and when things get tough they don’t have that identity to fall back on. Instead they are dependent on individual offense and/or making long jumpers. That’s not what they do well, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are regularly collapsing late in games. They are 6 and 15 in games decided by single digits. They are 2 and 11 in games decided by 5 points or less. They have lost 6 games by double digits, and won 12. This team needs an offensive theory to help them be consistent and close games.