Will the Celtics lose their chance to win the final?


Throughout these NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors’ offense has been pretty consistent. The Dubs have scored between 100 and 108 points in all five games, and their offensive rating has held steady between 108.1 and 115 in each contest. By contrast, the Boston Celtics have fluctuated wildly between dizzying efficiency and devastating ineptitude. Boston has posted an offensive rating as high as 125.4 (Game 3) and as low as 89.7 (Game 2).

The Celtics’ benchmark, as Robert O’Connell pointed out Wednesday, has been turnovers. The Celtics are 13-2 this postseason and 2-0 during the Finals in games in which they’ve coughed fewer than 15 times, while they’re 1-7 overall and 0-3 against Golden State. when they have given up. the ball away 15 times or more.


However, not all turnovers are created equal. Throwing the ball out of bounds, setting up an illegal screen, or committing a charge is not as detrimental as throwing it to the other team, missing a pass, or being stripped on the drive; at least in the examples above, you can set your defense before the attack and before the opposing offense starts their attack. Unfortunately for the Celtics, most of their errors during this series have been live balls.

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

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

Worse than the sheer volume of live ball giveaways, however, is that the Warriors have capitalized on those opportunities at an absurd rate. Golden State has converted Boston’s 49 live-ball gifts into 19 baskets and 13 fouls. The Warriors’ average of 1,467 points per possession coming from these 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 (fourth-lowest average in the league), that’s a pretty impressive feat.

The Celtics are being beaten by live turnovers in the Finals

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

Time frame Total billings Number Speed Points/Pos.
endings 78 49 62.8% 1,467
East. playoff conference 265 142 53.6 1,405
regular season 1,118 618 55.3 1,251

Sources: PBP Stats, Second Spectrum

Unfortunately, neither the league nor player-tracking services keep track of “forced steals.” It would be much better if they did, but we can try to get a reasonable approximation to something like that stat by taking a look at half-court matchup data to see who was guarding the player who turned the ball over in possession when he did too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Andrew Wiggins has been more involved than any other Warriors defender on these plays, as he was defending the man who coughed up the ball on 12 of Boston’s 57 half-court turnovers. Gary Payton II has also been heavily involved, defending the culprit on nine of those possessions despite not playing in the first game of the series.

While he has not necessarily been the one who actually strength them every time, no one has seen turnovers end up on 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 gifts like these has also benefited Curry, as he made seven baskets and drew two fouls on subsequent possessions.

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

You know, play when a Celtic pulls into traffic for no reason and misses his dribble on a turning move; he attempts to thread a needle between three defenders to a teammate who is not open; he throws an overhand pass to a teammate who is not open; hits his defender in the face while trying to establish the position he already has; he jumps into the air and throws the ball over his head to no one in particular; jump in the air and launch the ball across the court directly to a defender; he digs into his defender’s body even though he has 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 to the top of the key; or attempts to throw the ball into the lane and between four defenders to a cutting teammate who is not open.

Basically, if you’re watching one of Smart’s many turnovers, there’s a good chance you’re watching some Celtic shit.

The reason all of this matters is that despite the game-to-game consistency of Golden State’s offense overall, about the only way the Warriors have been able to get points is by coming out at halftime.

Through five games, Boston has held the Dubs to just 93.9 points per 100 possessions in non-junk time at halfcourt, according to Glass Cleaning. Basically, when they can set up their defense, the Celtics can turn the Warriors’ offense into the equivalent of the Sacramento Kings’ 21.St.-Classified half court attack.

But when the Celtics are scrambled, they’re much more vulnerable and have allowed the Warriors to transition out 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 steals than they are to missed shots. Golden State has 125.7 points per 100 non-garbage transition plays overall during this series, according to Crystal Clean; but that number is only 108.8 live rebounds and 146.9 steals.

What’s particularly interesting about Boston’s apparent inability to stop giving the ball away is that the Celtics weren’t a high-rotation team during the regular season. His turnover rate of 13.9 ranked 13th-lowest in the league this year, according to NBA Advanced Stats. His overall figure has shot up to 14.6 percent during the Eastern Conference playoffs, and it’s 16.3 percent in the Finals. The Warriors ranked seventh in the NBA in opponent turnover rate during the regular season, but actually forced turnovers at a slightly lower rate during their time in the Western Conference.

Boston’s carelessness sent that number skyrocketing again, and it’s the main reason the Warriors have been able to retake the series lead. If Tatum, Brown and Smart want to extend this series to a Game 7, their best bet is to limit Celtic Bullshit and take care of the basketball.

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