Will the Celtics give up their chance to win the final?


Throughout these NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors offense has been pretty consistent. The Dubs scored between 100 and 108 points in the five games, and their offensive rating has remained steady between 108.1 and 115 in each game. In contrast, the Boston Celtics swung wildly between searing efficiency and devastating ineptitude. Boston recorded an offensive rating as high as 125.4 (Game 3) and as low as 89.7 (Game 2).

The Celtics’ barometer, as Robert O’Connell noted on Wednesday, has been turnovers. The Celtics are 13-2 in the playoffs and 2-0 in the Finals in games where they spat the ball less than 15 times, while they are just 1-7 overall and 0-3 against Golden State when they gave away the ball 15 or more times.

However, not all turnovers are created equal. Throwing the ball out of bounds, setting an illegal screen, or committing a charge is not as damaging as throwing the other team, fumbling a pass, or getting stripped on the drive; at least in the previous examples, you can set your defense before the finish and before the opposing attack begins its attack. Unfortunately for the Celtics, the majority of their blunders during this series have been of the live ball type.

Of Boston’s 78 turnovers in this series, 49 have been live balls, according to PBP Stats. That’s a 62.8% live ball turnover rate, which not only far exceeds the team average during the regular season or the East end of the playoffs, but would have been ranked dead last in the league. NBA this year. (Only 43.9% of Golden State’s Finals turnover was of the live ball variety.)

The biggest culprit was Jayson Tatum, with 13 of his 18 turnovers giving the Warriors chances to go the other way. But Jaylen Brown (10 of 15) and Marcus Smart (9 of 16) aren’t far behind, and every regular in Boston’s rotation has committed at least one live turnover.

Worse than the volume of live bullet giveaways, however, is that the Warriors capitalized on those opportunities to an absurd clip. Golden State turned Boston’s 49 live balls into 19 baskets and 13 fouls. The Warriors’ average of 1,467 points per possession from those live turnovers would have ranked second in the NBA during the regular season, according to Second Spectrum. Considering the Celtics allowed just 1,251 points per possession after live turnovers during the regular season (the fourth-lowest average in the league), that’s a pretty impressive feat.

Celtics get crushed by live ball turnovers in Finals

Turnovers committed by the Boston Celtics, including a breakdown of live turnovers, during segments of the 2021-22 NBA season

Time range Total turnover Number Assess Points/Poss.
Finals 78 49 62.8% 1.467
East. Conf. playoffs 265 142 53.6 1.405
Regular season 1,118 618 55.3 1.251

Sources: PBP Statistics, Second Spectrum

Unfortunately, neither the league nor player tracking services keep track of “forced rotations”. It would be much cooler if they did, but we can try to reasonably approximate something like this stat by taking a look at the half court match data to see who was guarding the player who returned the ball on possession when they did. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Andrew Wiggins was more involved than any other Warriors defenseman on those plays, as he defended the man who spat the ball on 12 of Boston’s 57 half-court turnovers. Gary Payton II was also heavily involved, defending the culprit on nine of those possessions despite not playing in the series opener.

Although he wasn’t necessarily the one who actually Obligate each time, no one has seen the turnovers end up in their hands more often than Stephen Curry, who has a team-high 10 steals in five games of these Finals. The chaos that can ensue after such giveaways also benefited Curry, as he made seven field goals and two fouls on the resulting possessions.

Of course, not all turnovers are actually forced by the opposing team. And much of Boston’s turnover is directly attributable to what can best be described as “Celtic Bullshit.”

You know, plays when a Celtic walks into traffic for no reason and loses their dribble on a spin move; tries to thread a needle between three defenders to a teammate who is not open; lob an overhand pass to a teammate who is not open; punches his defender in the face trying to establish a position he already has; jumps in the air and throws the ball over his head to no one in particular; jumps in the air and throws the ball across the pitch directly at a defender; rams into his defender’s body even though there’s nowhere to go and elbows him in the jaw; ignores a wide-open teammate in the corner in an effort to make a wraparound pass up the key; or tries to throw the ball down the lane and between four defenders to a cutting teammate who is not open.

Basically, if you’re watching any of Smart’s many turnarounds, you’re very likely watching some Celtic bullshit.

The reason all of this matters is that despite the game-to-game consistency of Golden State’s offense overall, pretty much the only way the Warriors can get points is to get out. on the break.

Over five games, Boston has held the Dubs to just 93.9 points per 100 non-garbage possessions in the half court, according to Cleaning the Glass. Basically, when they can define their defense, the Celtics are able to turn the Warriors’ offense into the equivalent of the Sacramento Kings’– Classified half-court attack.

But when the Celtics are scrambled, they’re much more vulnerable, and they allowed the Warriors to go out in transition at what would have been a top-three rate during the regular season. The Celtics, like all NBA teams, are also considerably more vulnerable to interceptions than missed shots. Golden State is at 125.7 points per 100 garbage-free transition games overall during this streak, according to Cleaning the Glass; but that number is only 108.8 on live rebounds and 146.9 on steals.

What’s particularly interesting about Boston’s apparent inability to stop giving the ball away is that the Celtics weren’t a particularly high-turnover team during the regular season. Their 13.9 turnover rate ranked 13th lowest in the league this year, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Their overall figure jumped to 14.6% in the Eastern Conference Playoffs and 16.3% in the Finals. The Warriors were seventh in the NBA in opponent turnover rate during the regular season, but actually forced giveaways at a slightly lower rate during their run in the Western Conference.

Boston’s neglect drove that number up, and it was the main reason the Warriors were able to reclaim the series lead. If Tatum, Brown and Smart want to extend this streak to a Game 7, their best bet is to limit the Celtic Bullshit and deal with the basketball.

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