Celtics have found winning formula
The Boston Celtics entered a three-day break Sunday riding a 10-game winning streak. And while it hasn't always been the prettiest basketball of the season, it's getting the job done. We crunch the numbers and point to a few things that stand out during the streak:
Dominating the stat sheet
Maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise that Boston is topping its competition in every major category on the stat sheet over the past 10 games, save for one column: offensive rebounds, where opponents hold a 9.5-7.2 per game advantage. That's a category coach Doc Rivers will gladly sacrifice in order for his troops to get back and set on defense.
Boston is dominating opponents in scoring (100.7-86.1), total rebounds (41.3-37), defensive rebounds (34.1-27.5), assists (25.9-19.1), steals (8.3-7), blocks (6.4-3.6) and field goal percentage (51.7-41.2). The often-sloppy Celtics even boast a small advantage in turnovers (14-15.1), are shooting more free throws (25.6-24.4) and are making the same percent of 3-pointers (35.6) with approximately two fewer attempts than their opponents per game (13.5-15.4).
Boston also is annihilating its competition in the NBA's measure of team efficiency », a metric that combines the major stat categories into one tidy number. Through Saturday's action, the league average for team efficiency was about 111. During this 10-game stretch, the Celtics are averaging 126 for team efficiency, while opponents are at 86.3.
NBA efficiency isn't perfect, but rarely does a team win the efficiency battle and lose the game. In fact, it's only happened once for Boston this season. The Celtics were plus-3 in efficiency against the Raptors on Nov. 21, but lost 102-101. The three times Boston came out on the negative side of the efficiency rating, they lost to Oklahoma City (minus-5), Dallas (minus-7) and Cleveland (minus-6).
By comparison, Boston was plus-69 against Charlotte on Saturday, highlighting a 10-game stretch in which it hasn't been below plus-10 (versus Portland on Dec. 1).
Ahead of last year's pre-All-Star marks
How is Boston performing compared to last season? We all know the Celtics faltered after Christmas last season, going 27-27 over their last 54 games. But the Celtics started 23-5 before the wheels came off. So we compared Boston's pre-All-Star numbers last season (50 games, 32-18) to where the Green stand through 23 games this season (19-4).
The Celtics are up in scoring (100.7-98.7), rebounds (39.7-38.8), assists (25.9-23.5) and field goal percentage (50.9-48.4). Boston is attempting five fewer 3-pointers per game and its efficiency rating is seven points higher than it was at last year's break.
Boston is slightly off pace in steals and blocks, but about the only category it is really underperforming in is free throws. The Celtics attempted nearly two more freebies per game last season.
The old KG is back
There may come a time during the 2010-11 season when we stop being amazed by how Kevin Garnett is playing like the pre-knee-surgery Kevin Garnett. But allow us to be amazed a little longer.
Garnett is second in the NBA in defensive rebounds (198), trailing only Minnesota's Kevin Love (and his absurd 259). What's more, Garnett is third in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, a metric that calculates the percentage of available defensive boards that a player is grabbing, at 31.3 percent.
As we pointed out last weekend, Garnett's defensive rebounding rate is all the more impressive given that he led the NBA four times in that category from 2003-04 to 2006-07 (the same years he led the league in rebounds per game) and never topped the 30.8 percent he posted in 2006-07. By comparison, Garnett grabbed only 24.8 percent of available defensive rebounds a year ago and topped out in Boston at 26.7 percent in 2007-08.
One more thing: Garnett leads the NBA in individual defensive rating (opponents' points scored per 100 possessions) at 92.6 (Dwight Howard is second at 93.3, while Chris Paul and Andrew Bogut are tied at third at 96.6). By comparison, Garnett led the NBA during Boston's 2007-08 championship season at 93.8, far and away the best season of his career. Surely, Boston's team defense aids that number, but Garnett is what makes the Celtics' defense click, and for him to be playing the best D of his career is a very good sign for the Green.
A few more things
Making the most of his time: Glen Davis' minutes are actually down a bit over the past 10 games (27.1 per contest; 28.7 for the season), but his stat line during that span (13.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists) is better than his season line (11.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists). His field goal percentage is down a bit, but he's getting to the line more, and clearly he's carrying the second unit with his production.
Not missing a beat because of injuries: One of the Celtics' most efficient lineups this season? Nate Robinson running with the starters when Rajon Rondo has been sidelined. The Boston lineup with the best offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) is the Robinson-and-starters combo at 126.6. (Of course, the Rondo-led lineup at 119.9 is nothing to sneeze at, particularly considering the larger sampling size). What's more, the Robinson lineup boasted an 83 defensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions), giving it the best efficiency differential at plus-43.6. The normal starting five with Shaquille O'Neal is plus-21.9 with a defensive efficiency of 98.1.
Experience can't be measured: The Celtics are finding ways to pull out close games, including the thriller in Philadelphia on Thursday night in which Rondo's alley-oop lob to Garnett in the final seconds lifted Boston to a 102-101 triumph. Those are the type of games Boston fumbled away last year, but now they're winning them. The Celtics are protecting their home court (10-1 at the Garden) and avoiding letdowns on the road against weaker competition. It seems they have learned from last year's transgressions and are using that knowledge -- and all their experience -- to thrive early in 2010-11.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.