How to Save the Celtics? Start with the Turnovers
The Boston Celtics find themselves in an 0-2 hole to the Bulls in large part because they're turning the ball over more than they ever did in the regular season.
Photo by Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
The Boston Celtics have run into several significant issues in the first two games of their first-round series against the Chicago Bulls, which they now trail 0-2.
They're getting pounded on the defensive glass—Chicago has grabbed an outrageous 37.8 percent of their own missed shots, which leads all playoff teams and is 10 percent higher than the regular-season-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Rajon Rondo looks like he's 25 years old, and no Bull has ever missed a shot from the mid-range.
As it stands, there's no easy adjustment Boston can make to fix those problems without constructing another hurdle somewhere else. Squeezing the ball from Rondo's hands is exactly what he wants you to do, and if Chicago's role players are going to nail the inefficient long twos that Boston's defense encourages them to launch, well, that's why they call it a make-or-miss league.
But there's at least one self-inflicted wound the Celtics should be able to correct, and they need to if they want to avoid a historically humiliating third-straight defeat on Friday night: Don't turn the ball over. Boston's turnover percentage in this series is 14.8 percent, 0.1 lower than what the 30th-ranked Philadelphia 76ers generated during the regular season.
Some of these mistakes should be credited to a Bulls defense that executed their pick-and-roll scheme with flawless precision. They consistently put two defenders on Isaiah Thomas and forced him to get off it quicker than he's used to. Some turnovers, though, are just careless passes that lead to live-ball opportunities the other way.
"They're not a transition-type team, coming into the series," Jae Crowder said. "But we made them a transition team with our turnovers and unforced errors, so we've just gotta take that out the game, make it a half-court game and guard those guys."
Only five teams did a better job protecting the ball than Boston before the All-Star break. After, only ten teams coughed it up more. It's an issue that has slowly bubbled to the surface over the past few weeks, when reliable caretakers saw their individual turnover rates steadily increase.
Thomas was at an incredible 8.7 percent during the regular season. He's up to 17.5 percent in the first two games of this series. Avery Bradley was at 8.6 percent and now he's at 15.4 percent.
The sloppiness motivated Brad Stevens to load up on ball-handlers in Game 2. He closed the first quarter with Terry Rozier beside Marcus Smart and Bradley, then started the second quarter with Rozier, Smart, and Thomas. Those groups outscored Chicago by nine points in six minutes.
The glass will remain an issue until Robin Lopez stops making Godzilla look like a gnome, but Boston can help themselves in the meantime by cutting out the type of mistakes they were barely making earlier this season.
"I think for whatever reason we were a little anxious at times. As a group, we didn't handle it as good as we could have," Al Horford said. "It's all about, we're learning. We're learning as a group. Our team, we've been very consistent all year, so I feel good about our team. And we have some things that we need to figure out. And we will."