The Indiana Pacers today face off against the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics. Throughout the media, much praise has been heaped upon the Celtic defense, with buzzwords such as “teamwork” and “efficiency” commonly, yet vaguely, being used to describe this excellent basketball team. With the help of advanced statistics, however, we can attempt to shed some light on a few of the many reasons for Boston’s success, and conversely, the related implications for the Pacers today.
The Celtics’ defense has constantly been praised for the last four years as being one of the most stifling in the league. At first glance, however, it appears that this truly is not the case. After all, they are nearly last in the NBA in blocks per game, and even when factoring in other stats such as charges and steals (measured through defensive play rate, an advanced formula which also takes into account related markers [ie possessions, free throws etc]), the picture is still seemingly mediocre.
In spite of this, Boston’s defense is still lauded as one of the best, and a deeper analysis shows why such a categorization is in fact astute. Consider, for instance, an analysis of the Celtics’s defense from a shooting perspective: Boston forces the opposition into jump shots on 71% of non-turnover possessions, while allowing close-range shots just 24% of the time, one of the better values in the league. Of course, this is meaningless if the shots are not well-defended, and so it is also important to note that not only do they encourage jumpshots, but also that they yield a mere 42.6% effective field goal percentage on jump shots. This indicates that the Celtics are playing high-level defense even when they are unable to force a turnover (as mentioned before, these percentages apply only to possessions resulting in a field goal attempt), and so when one sums/takes into account other metrics such as steals and charges, the defensive prowess of the Celtics becomes very visible indeed.
Of course, any discussion of Boston’s defense would be incomplete without mentioning their ability to defend the paint, and for good reason: the Celtics allow just a 52.6% effective field goal percentage on close-range shots, one of the best marks in the league. Part of this is likely due to their ability to effectively harass the opposing team’s pivot man. Specifically, opposing centers are being held to an effective field goal percentage of just 46.7%, a commendable number.
All of these figures are of particular importance to the Pacers. Although they 72% of their shots are jumpers, Indiana’s effective field goal percentage on jump shots against all opponents is 44.5%, and so we can see here from a statistical standpoint the difficult time the Pacers are likely going to have tonight in terms of scoring the basketball. It is worth noting, however, that even if the Celtics’ are able to bother Pacer pivot man Roy Hibbert in a fashion akin to the manner that they’ve harassed opposing centers all season, Hibbert may in fact not experience such an extraordinarily bad shooting performance, as he is currently shooting 45.9 percent against all teams, which isn’t too far off from the 46.7 percent that the Celtics hold opposing centers to.
Also of concern to the Pacers tonight in particular is the fact that although star Celtic guard Rajon Rondo is not expected to play, the defense still is quite adept. In the two player rotations that Boston has used the most when Rondo is out of the game, backup guard Nate Robinson has manned the point guard spot, and in fact, when this is the case, the unit’s number of points allowed per possession is actually lower than allowed by the two lineups most commonly used when Rondo plays.
In spite of Celtic’s proficiency on defense, however, let us end on an optimistic note: Although Boston has a winning record of all types of teams, they have won by the least number of average points to teams that rank in the top third in terms of effective field goal percentage allowed. This bodes well for the Pacers, as they are one of the top teams in the League in terms of forcing opponents into shooting a low percentage.
Ultimately, this (and any) basketball match-up can be dissected to infinity. It is prudent here, thus, to bring an end to all this statistical speculation, and simply let the cards fall where they may, simply hoping for the best:
Pacers vs Celtics. Conseco Fieldhouse. 7:00 pm
Pacers vs Celtics By the Numbers