Will The Celtics Turn Over Their Chance To Win The Finals?

During those NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors’ offense was pretty consistent. The Dubs have scored between 100 and 108 points in all five games, and their offensive rating has remained consistent between 108.1 and 115 in every competition. In contrast, the Boston Celtics vacillated wildly between stunning efficiency and devastating incompetence. Boston has recorded an offensive rating as high as 125.4 (Game 3) and as low as 89.7 (Game 2).

As Robert O’Connell noted Wednesday, revenue was the most important factor for the Celtics. The Celtics are 13-2 and 2-0 during the Finals this postseason in games where they’ve coughed up the ball fewer than 15 times while they’re only 7-1 and 3-0 overall against Golden State when they gave up have gone the ball at least 15 times.

However, not all sales are created equal. Throwing the ball wide, setting an illegal screen, or committing a tackle isn’t as detrimental as throwing the ball to the other team, fumbling a pass, or stripping on the drive. At least in the previous examples, you can set your defense before the inbound and before the opposing offense begins their attack. Unfortunately for the Celtics, most of their mistakes during this series have been live balls.

Of Boston’s 78 turnovers during that series, 49 were live ball, according to PBP Stats. That’s a 62.8 percent live ball turnover rate that not only far exceeds the team’s average during the regular season or the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs, but also ranks last in the NBA this year would have. (Only 43.9 percent of sales at the Golden State Finals were live balls.)

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

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

The Celtics are finished off by live ball turnovers in the finals

Revenues committed by the Boston Celtics, including a breakdown of live ball revenue, during segments of the 2021-22 NBA season

Time window total sales number rate Points/Possible
final 78 49 62.8% 1,467
East. Conf. Endgames 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 sales”. It would be way cooler if they did, but we can try to approximate something like this stat somewhat by looking at the halffield matchup data to see who was guarding the player who was holding the ball turned him did this. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Andrew Wiggins was involved in these plays more than any other Warriors defenseman, 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 such possessions despite not playing in the first game of the series.

Though he wasn’t necessarily the one who actually did it Makes them every time, nobody has seen turnovers end up in his 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 freebies like these has also benefited Curry as he has made seven baskets and drawn two fouls on subsequent possessions.

Of course, not all turnovers are actually forced by the opposing team. And a large chunk of Boston’s revenue stems directly from what can best be described as “Celtic bullshit.”

You know, plays when a Celtic runs into traffic for no reason and loses his dribble on a spin move; tries to thread a needle between three defenders to a teammate who isn’t open; throws a pass over the top for a teammate who isn’t open; punches his defender in the face while trying to establish a position he already has; jumps in the air and doesn’t throw the ball over anyone’s head; jumps in the air and throws the ball across the field straight to a defender; drives into his defender’s body, despite having nowhere to go, and elbows him in the jaw; ignores a wide-open teammate in the corner to make an all-round pass to the top of the key; or attempting to throw the ball into the lane and between four defenders to a cutting teammate who is not open.

Basically, if you look at any of Smart’s many turnovers, there’s a good chance you’ll see some Celtic bullshit.

The reason all of this matters is that despite the game-to-game consistency on Golden State’s offense overall, the Warriors were pretty much all points by coming on the break.

In five games, Boston has held the dubs in half place at just 93.9 points per 100 non-trash-time possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Basically, if the Celtics can build their defense, they can turn the Warriors’ offense into the equivalent of the Sacramento Kings’ 21St-Rank Half Field Attack.

But when the Celtics get messed up, they’re a lot more vulnerable, and they’ve allowed the Warriors to get out at a top-three rate in the regular season. The Celtics, like any NBA team, are also significantly more vulnerable to steals than to misses. Golden State is 125.7 points per 100 total non-garbage time transition games during that streak, according to Cleaning the Glass; but that number is only 108.8 fewer live rebounds and 146.9 fewer steals.

What’s particularly interesting about Boston’s seeming inability to give away the ball is that the Celtics weren’t a particularly high-grossing team during the regular season. Their turnover rate of 13.9 ranks 13th lowest in the league this year, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Her total has increased to 14.6 percent during the Eastern Conference playoffs and 16.3 percent in the Finals. The Warriors ranked seventh in the NBA for opponent turnover rate during the regular season, but forced freebies at a slightly lower rate during their run through the Western Conference.

Boston’s carelessness sent that number skyrocketing again, and it’s the main reason the Warriors were able to reclaim the lead in the series. If Tatum, Brown and Smart want to expand this series into a Game 7, it’s best to cut down on the Celtic bullshit and focus on the basketball.

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