The Boston Celtics shot 39 percent last night, scored 35 points in the first half, totaled 74 points for the game, hit zero of their 11 downtown attempts, managed only 13 free throw attempts, scored 86 points per 100 possessions, well below the pace of the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats, and offensively rebounded at a significantly lower rate than they did during the regular season, when they became the worst offensive rebounding team in NBA history.
No, Boston’s offense was not quite as pretty as Halle Berry in her prime. If you’re looking to personify it, a better comparison might be Freak Show from Harold and Kumar. The Celtics held the Hawks to 35 points after halftime and really did a nice job shutting down open looks, at least after that horrific first quarter mercifully came to a close. But offensively, the Celtics were offensive.
Their first possession last night was soaked in foreshadowing: Paul Pierce came around a screen as part of a perfectly-executed set, set his feet, took aim at the rim, and almost had to shout “Fore!” as his shot drifted well left of its target. From that point on, it seemed like the Celtics got plenty of decent looks, but drilled very few.
If you’re an optimist it’s easy to predict the Celtics will not shoot that poorly again this series. Their efficiency last night was worse than it had been in all but two games after the All-Star break — a 22-point blowout to the Philadelphia 76ers in early March and a 78-66 win against Miami a week ago, when Boston’s starting lineup included Ryan Hollins and Sasha Pavlovic. Plus, a team with some of the NBA’s best mid-range shooters last night shot just 12 of 35 from mid-range, numbers that aren’t likely to repeat themselves. And even without Ray Allen, professional basketball teams that feature Paul Pierce and Mickael Pietrus rarely go without a made three-pointer.
The pessimist will note two things: 1) when Boston isn’t hitting mid-range jumpers, ugliness will often occur, and 2) scoring inefficiently against the Hawks is becoming something of a pattern. In four games against Atlanta this season, including last night, the Celtics have scored more than 87 points per 100 possessions (a rate that’s far worse than the Bobcats’ this season) just once. And that “once” came when Boston rested almost all its regulars during the regular season’s stretch run, a weird game that featured Avery Bradley shooting 12 for 22 and Keyon Dooling drilling seven of his 10 field goal attempts. The other three games against Atlanta are all among Boston’s nine worst offensive outputs of the season. Note that the Hawks are the only team on the list more than once:
Game, Date: Boston’s offensive efficiency
1. Boston vs. Philadelphia, March 7: 78.9
1. Boston vs. Phoenix, Jan. 20: 78.9
3. Boston vs. Dallas, Feb. 20: 80.2
4. Boston vs. Detroit, Feb. 19: 83.5
5. Boston vs. Miami, April 24: 84.8
6. Boston vs. Atlanta, last night: 86.0
7. Boston vs. Atlanta, April 11: 86.3
8. Boston vs. Indiana, Jan. 6: 86.5
9. Boston vs. Atlanta, March 19: 86.8
(Individual game offensive efficiencies via Hoop Data)
Does any of this necessarily mean a whole lot for the remainder of this series? No. It’s a very small sample size. If the Celtics had made more shots last night, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But Atlanta defending Boston quite well last night was nothing new. The Hawks have defended the Celtics as well as any team in the NBA this season.