Brad Stevens felt good about the Celtics’ offense yesterday, but the Celtics only shot 9 total free throws against the Spurs. And the Spurs took 25 attempts from the stripe!
Maybe the end result wasn’t what Stevens desired, but, as A. Sherrod Blakely wrote after the game, Stevens said he felt good about his team’s offensive execution.
Despite the free throw disparity, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens felt good for the most part with how his team performed offensively against one of the NBA’s top defenses.
“You score 103, have 32 assists on 10 turnovers we attacked the paint all night,” Stevens said. “Our goal was attack the paint and I thought we attacked the paint all night. Sometimes that means you are going to get shots at the rim; sometimes you’re not, sometimes it means that you’re going to get to the foul line, sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes it means you’re going to make the right next play and kick it out and move the ball and attack again. I thought offensively we were pretty good.”
ATTACKING THE PAINT
Let’s break down this quote. Stevens first mentions assist to turnover ratio, before saying the Celtics attacked the paint all night.
Some might say “But the Celtics took 35 three pointers! How can you say you attacked the paint if you’re shooting threes?”
Well, as Brad mentions, attacking the paint doesn’t always mean getting a shot in the paint. Sometimes it means you’re going to collapse the defense, and move the ball. Kick the ball out to an open shooter.
The Celtics shot 57 total 2 point attempts, 45 of them within 10 feet, per NBA.com’s player tracking data.
According to CBSSports’ play-by-play data the Celtics attempted 36 total dunks or layups. That’s more than a third of their 91 total FGA.
ASSIST TO TURNOVER RATIO
As Brad Stevens also mentioned in the beginning of that quote, the Celtics’ assist to turnover ratio was very good.
Marcus Smart lead the Celtics with 10 assists, Isaiah Thomas had 8 dimes of his own, and Jae Crowder had 5. (Smart committed one turnover, Thomas 2, and Crowder 1.)
Essentially, the Celtics did a good job of moving the ball, and minimizing turnovers.
If you look at Assist Points Created, an NBA.com advanced stat showing how many points a player produced via assists, you can see that moving the ball is how the Celtics created their scoring.
Smart created 23 points with his passing. His season average is 10.5. The same went for Thomas and Crowder. They both topped their season averages in assist points created. Thomas had 19, he averages 15.3 this season. Crowder finished with 12 and he only averages 4 for the season.
FREE THROW DISPARITY
Without going full Tom Heinsohn here, the free throw disparity was very odd.
Also from the A. Sherrod Blakely article mentioned above, the Spurs average 21.1 opponent free throw attempts per game. It’s one of the best marks in the league, however 21.1 is still far more than 9.
The Celtics average 20.4 FTA per game. One of the lowest marks in the league, but, again way more than 9.
Given that the Celtics lost by only 6 points a free throw disparity of 25-9 hurts. Assuming the average NBA team makes roughly 75% of their FTAs that’s essentially a 12 point swing. One might argue that the Spurs deserved the calls made in their favor, and they might be right. However, the Celtics deserved more calls than they got.
The Celtics shot 4 free throws in the first quarter. They would go on to shoot 5 in the next 3 quarters combined.
Isaiah Thomas averages 9.1 FTA per game this season. He attempted 4 against the Spurs. All in the first quarter. Considering that he leads the league in drives to the rim per game, it’s hard to believe he wasn’t fouled once in 3 quarters of play.
SILVER LININGS AND MORAL VICTORIES
Ultimately, you can’t win ’em all. “Moral Victories” don’t win your division, unfortunately. The Celtics might be frustrated at the result of yesterday’s game. However, they can at least feel good about how they executed on offense. They can build on that performance, and carry that momentum forward.
Also, regardless of how many calls the officials may have missed on the Celtics’ offensive end, they have to do a better job of avoiding calls on the other end. The Celtics defense has been better over the course of the last 8 games, than it was over the first 7. However they have to defend without fouling.