Game 5: Inside the Box Score

749402.jpg

Game 5: Inside the Box Score

When Kevin Garnett sits down at the podium for a post-game press conference on the night's when he does sit at the podium he's often preoccupied.

Not by the questions blasting out from the media, the answers being given by his teammate, the blinding lights of the cameras or the screaming voices inside his head.

Instead, by the white piece of paper in front of him.

The box score.

No one loves a post-game box score more than KG. The whole press conference will be buzzing around him, and half the time he's sitting there like this. Taking it all in.

And not because he's obsessed with his own (or any) stats.

The guy spends every night in an almost-inhuman trance where everything's so fast and nothing matters for more than two seconds. It makes the game impossible to digest; even harder to analyze. So before he speaks his post-game piece, Garnett likes to sit down with the box score and try to make sense of what just happened.

Anyway, after last night's ridiculous Game 5, I think we were ALL wondering the same thing:

What. The Hell. Just Happened.

So I took a page out KG's book, studied the box score, and tried to make some sense.

Here's what jumped out at me:

Avery Bradley: Two points

When the series began, we all assumed that the Hawks would go with a Jeff TeagueJoe JohnsonMarvin WilliamsJosh SmithCenter line-up. The reason being that playing Johnson at the two would force Avery Bradley to guard a much taller and stronger man. This would create a mismatch for the Hawks and ideally (for Atlanta) force Doc Rivers to tinker with his ideal five-man unit.

Anyway, for some reason, Drew ignored that obvious advantage for the first four games of which the Hawks lost three. Then last night, with his season on the line and no where else to turn, Drew finally woke up, went with Williams and here was your result.

Avery Bradley: Two points.

Just as important, Avery Bradley: 18 minutes.

Not including Game 3 (when the C's were up big and Bradley was resting his shoulder), No. 0 hadn't played less than 24 minutes in a game since becoming a starter on March 25. But with one obvious adjustment, the Hawks basically eliminated him. It's not that he didn't score; he barely played. He saw the floor for 10 seconds in the fourth quarter.

Personally, I think Doc over-thought the situation. As much as Atlanta forced his hand with the new starting unit, he seemed far too willing to let them force his hand. Why make it so easy for the Hawks to dictate the way you play? Why not just do what you do, say "Our best vs. your best" and take care of business?

It's one thing if the JohnsonBradley match-up was killing them, but that's not remotely true.

Do you know how many points Johnson scored when Bradley was in the game?

Four.

On 1-6 shooting.

On that note

Joe Johnson: 6-17 from the field, 15 points
While it took Drew four games to figure out that Williams should start, 165 games hasn't been enough to realize that Iso-Joe is not Atlanta's best offensive option.

With last night's 6-17 performance, Johnson's now shooting .365 for the series. He's also taken twice has many three-pointers (30) as his closest teammate, and is connecting at a .233 rate. In a way, it's a little scary that the Hawks are still alive despite his no-show, but then again, it's not like this is anything new. This is the fifth straight year that Johnson's scoring average has decreased between the regular season and playoffs. He's no longer the guy you can consistently depend on to throw the team on his back.

But as long as Drew wants to keep trying instead of spreading the floor and letting Teague carve up the D the Celtics will take it.

Paul Pierce: Zero free throw attempts.

This was only the fourth time in 115 career playoff games that Paul Pierce failed to get to the foul line. That's never good for business, and certainly raises a few questions about the status of his knee.

Paul Pierce isn't Paul Pierce unless he's getting to the line.

The Celtics aren't the Celtics unless Paul Pierce is Paul Pierce.

The last time was Boston's blowout loss in Game 6 of the 2010 Finals.

Kevin Garnett: Zero assists.

Its only the fourth time all season that Garnett probably Boston's second best passer (after Brandon Bass) has failed to register an assist. And surprise, surprise, the Celtics are now 0-4 in those games.

Thats not to say that KG was hogging the ball. He took only 12 shots last night, which is actually down one from his season average, and down more than two from the 14.3 a game he posted after the All Star Break. More than anything, Garnett's invisible assist total comes down to a lack of flow in the half court offense the C's missed Bradley's movement and missed shots from his teammates. It's indicative of the staleness in Boston's entire approach, and hopefully the last goose egg of his playoff season.

P.S. Garnett's seven rebounds in 38 minutes weren't great either, and most likely a product of.

Al Horford: 41 minutes, 19 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals

Well, then. That was unexpected.

To be honest, when I read Horford's comments after Game 4 (about his his status for Game 5), I just assumed that his season was over:

"Well see how I feel tomorrow," Horford said. "Either way Im going to be supporting the team. If I can play I will. If not, then Ill be there to support them like I have all year."

Does that sound like a guy who's ready to play? Who has it in him to give 41 minutes, be a factor on both ends and essentially save Atlanta's season?

No way. Nobody saw that coming. And moving forward, Horford's an enormous wild card.

When he's out there, the Hawks are a different team. They're a playoff team. Horford might not be Kevin Garnett, but in terms of offense, defense, passion and overall attitude, he's the closest thing Atlanta has. He takes everyone to another level.

But at the same time, given that he wasn't healthy enough to play AT ALL in the first three games, and considering his general caution after Game 4, it's fair to wonder if Horford may have emptied his entire chamber on the Phillip Arena floor.

Can he really bounce back for a third straight game?.

I'm not sure, but either way, at least the Celtics will know he's coming.

Atlanta's bench: Four guys < Eight minutes

Horford isn't the only Hawk who got an extended work out last night.

Every starter but Marvin Williams played more than 40 minutes, and none of Drew's reserves played more than eight. Of course, you can't blame him. If you're going to go down, you want to do with your best. But now that Atlanta's extended the series, you have to wonder if any of them especially Smith, on that gimpy knee will have anything left for Thursday's unbelievably emotional and physical test at the Garden.

Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo was the only Celtics starter to play more than 40 minutes.

Ryan Hollins: 19 minutes

No, seriously. Ryan Hollins.

Yeah, I know. You can say that Hollins played well last night (and Doc did), but thats a very relative term. He played well for Ryan Hollins.

But that doesn't change the fact that he's Ryan Hollins.

Hollins only played 160 minutes for the Celtics this season (by comparison, Jermaine ONeal played 570) and over his time with the team, the Celtics have barely practiced. As a result, Hollins didn't know what he was doing last night. Sure, he was slightly effective when the game got chaotic and his athleticism shined through. And sure, he was definitely in Josh Smith's head for periods of time. But in general, when the game slowed down, and the Celtics needed to play actual basketball, Hollins was a mess. And that's not his fault he's Ryan Hollins! And that explains why he only played a combined 22 minutes in the first four games of the series.

Still looking for a good reason why he played 19 minutes in Game 5, other than: "Doc's once again decided to randomly bench Greg Stiemsma despite the fact that he's done nothing to deserve it."

Rajon Rondo: 6-17, 13 points, 12 assists, five turnovers.

Forget everything you just read, and know this:

When Rajon Rondo puts up a line like the one above, the Celtics are going to have a hard time winning.

For all the back and forth about what it will take for the Celtics to knock out the Hawks and achieve any sort of success in these playoffs, it's in some ways as easy as that. It still all comes down to Rondo.

When he's on his game, the Celtics can play with anyone most definitely Miami. When he plays like he did last night? Anything's possible.

And unlike box score-loving Kevin Garnett, I don't mean that in a good way.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”
 

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

BOSTON – Facing Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook with a fully healthy squad is tough. 
 
Doing so without your leading scorer makes the challenge all that much greater. 
 
That is where the Celtics find themselves heading into Sunday night’s game against the Thunder without Isaiah Thomas, who did not travel with the team when they left for Oklahoma City today. 
 
Boston’s leading scorer this season with 26 points per game, Thomas suffered a right groin injury against Houston on Dec. 5 and has missed the Celtics’ past two games because of it. 
 
He was hoping to convince Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to let him travel with the team, but Thomas acknowledged convincing Ainge was a long shot. 
 
“He’s not really in favor of me going,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “I’m trying to convince them to let me go. If I’m there, they know I’m going to try and play. I’m shooting for Wednesday [at San Antonio] for the most part. That’s more realistic than Sunday. Hopefully I can play on Wednesday.”
 
Boston has split the two games with Thomas out, beating the you-know-what out of Orlando 117-87 on the road, but dropping one at home 101-94 to Toronto on Friday night. 
 
As disappointed as Thomas is with not being able to play – it’s the first games he has missed since the 2014-2015 season – he understands the potential problems that could surface with an injury like this if he and the Celtics aren’t careful. 
 
“They keep wanting to be very patient with this,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to re-injure it. It is an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season. I don’t want that. On top of that, it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”
 
Among the other injuries Thomas was referring to, is a still-swollen finger on his left (shooting) hand. 
 
The injury was believed to have happened on Nov. 12 against Indiana. 
 
While it was painfully sore, it didn’t seem to be an issue in Boston’s next game against New Orleans when he scored a season-high 37 points. He followed that up with a 30-point performance in a 90-83 win over Dallas.