With their win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics moved to 18-4 on the season - the best record in the NBA. But if that’s not enough, the Celtics also lay claim to what would be the best offense in league history. Their offensive rating of 121.5 is five whole points ahead of second place, which is the same difference between second place and 16th place.
It’s been mainly roses and sunshine for the Celtics and their fans this season, but that doesn’t mean the team is perfect. The defense is still struggling, Robert Williams will have to be re-integrated into the lineup (a good problem to have), and there aren’t always enough minutes to go around.
But one of the thorns in their side is their carelessness with the ball.
In the NBA Finals last season, the Celtics averaged 16.8 turnovers per game - a number that would rank third in the league this season. That being said, they’ve quieted this issue this year, bringing the number down to 13.5 per game (seventh in the NBA), but just because the turnovers haven’t directly translated into losses doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem.
Boston’s defense isn’t what it was last year, and while the return of Williams could help solve that, the turnovers hurt them on that side of the ball even more. When they aren’t able to set their defense, opponents get easy looks, and unfortunately for the Celtics, they are prone to let a simple slide lead to an avalanche.
Their win over the Heat started with a 20-8 run by the Celtics, but it quickly evaporated. With 8:05 remaining in the quarter, the Celtics turned the ball over - one of five in a less than five-minute stretch, during which the Heat went on a 19-8 run.
Careless turnovers allowed the Heat to get back into the game before the Celtics even had a chance to build on their lead. Miami ended the night with 15 points off eighteen Boston turnovers, marking the seventh time in the last nine games the Celtics have turned the ball over at least 14 times.
The Celtics’ win over the New Orleans Pelicans provides another perfect example. They held a 74-60 lead with 8:03 left to go in the third quarter. That’s when Jaylen Brown coughed up the ball which snowballed into more, marking the first of nine Boston turnovers in the last eight minutes of the quarter.
But in the fourth quarter, with the Celtics up 98-85 with 7:21 left, the turnover avalanche happened again. Boston turned the ball over three times in less than a minute, and with 6:19 left in the game, the score was 98-92.
Whenever the Celtics start spiraling, one turnover can turn into five, and that leads to easy buckets for the other team. Boston’s elite offense has bailed them out time and time again this season, but they’re only making games harder on themselves, which could eventually lead to losses. And even now, it’s preventing them from turning 10-point wins into blowouts, forcing their starters to play extra minutes when it would otherwise be unnecessary.
And if that wasn’t enough, nearly all of the Celtics’ turnovers during these stretches are unforced errors. Their five-turnover run against the Heat included three bad passes, a stepping-out-of-bounds call, and an offensive foul.
Their first avalanche against the Pelicans (in the third quarter) was marked by five bad pass turnovers, three lost balls, and a travel. And in their fourth quarter, one-minute meltdown, it was a travel and two lost balls.
Almost all of the Celtics’ mistakes are self-inflicted, and they almost always come in bunches. So, while turnovers haven’t been an issue that has affected the win/loss column too much this year, they are absolutely taking their toll on the Celtics.