How the Celtics' Fast Pace Is Restoring Pride in Boston
The rebuilding days in Boston, while short, seem to be over, as the Celtics have risen back near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Behind third-year head coach Brad Stevens, Boston has righted the ship since a mediocre 19-19 start had them in the middle of the pack in the East. Since January 13, the Celtics have gone 19-7, including two separate five-game winning streaks and a 13-0 record at home.
Upping the Tempo
Boston’s success can be attributed to running the third-fastest Pace in the league, 98.6 possessions per 48 minutes, and having the fourth-most efficient defense in the league, 102.8 points per 100 possessions. While playing a faster tempo, the Celtics have been careful with the basketball and aggressive defensively, forcing 2.5 more turnovers per 100 possessions than they have allowed.
The Celtics are also eighth in Offensive Rebounding Percentage, based on opportunities over 100 missed shots. These factors have contributed to Boston attempting five more shots per game than their opponents, helping make up for a relatively lower shooting percentage.
Although the Celtics rank 21st in Effective Field Goal Percentage, which is a statistic that takes into consideration the fact that threes are more valuable than twos, the team ranks 9th in Offensive Efficiency, scoring 106.9 points per 100 possessions.
All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas has been the bright spot in the Celtics' offense, ranking 13th in points per game (21.6) and 9th in assists per game (6.7). Coming in seventh amongst guards in nERD with a ranking of 9.8, Thomas is showing to be well above a league average player this season.
Boston’s three-point efforts this season have meshed nicely with the Pace at which they play. While the Celtics haven’t been efficient shooting threes, their defensive efforts have been able to offset that weakness.
Boston shoots threes on 29.6 percent of their shot attempts while shooting 33 percent, fourth worst in the league. Kelly Olynyk has helped balance their offense, shooting 41 percent from downtown, 10th in the league. Defensively, Boston is third-best in the NBA against three-pointers, holding opponents to 32.8 percent.
The Celtics’ defensive attack is led by forwards Jae Crowder and Jared Sullinger. Crowder’s 7.3 nERD score is 16th in the league amongst forwards, and he contributes to the Celtics’ strong turnover differential by forcing just under two steals per game, ninth in the NBA. He and Sullinger rank in the top 20 in the league in Defensive Win Shares, a statistic estimating the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense. Sullinger also ranks ninth in Defensive Rating, allowing an estimated 98.6 points per 100 possessions.
Boston has 18 games remaining, half of which are home games. They will be tested down the stretch, as they have two more games against Toronto, one against Oklahoma City, and a five-game West Coast trip, including games at Golden State, Portland, and the Clippers.
According to our projections, the Celtics will finish third in the Eastern Conference with a 48-34 record and face the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the playoffs, who they have beaten in their only two meetings thus far this season. Boston has a 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 2.9 percent chance of winning the championship.
Boston has made a push toward the top of the Eastern Conference and still has many assets in their pocket and moves to be made. This offseason, they will receive Brooklyn’s first-round pick, projected to be in the top five, and Dallas’ first-round pick as long as it falls outside of the top seven.
The Celtics also are able to swap first-round picks with the Nets in 2017 and own their 2018 first-round pick, both of which look to be very valuable. With these assets in tow, Boston is in a position to add great pieces to this young nucleus and be a serious championship contender sooner than expected.