The Celts have proved their strength toward the home stretch of the regular season, going 16-7 since injuries to starters Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger. They have pushed forward at a feverish pace, once again claiming the role of Eastern Conference powerhouse.
But certain alarming numbers seem to haunt this team, numbers that could greatly affect a postseason run.
The following statistical analyses highlight the most startling issues facing the Boston Celtics at this point of the season, from relatively important to severely daunting.
Kevin Garnett's Offensive Decline
Make no mistake about it: Kevin Garnett is tired. His shoulder hurts and he just came down with a nasty case of the flu. Now add to these hardships the undeniable truth: his 36-year-old body has been called upon to do more than the C's ever asked. Talk about a recipe for disaster.
Since the beginning of March, KG has averaged 12.4 points, 1.7 assists and 0.85 steals and blocks in seven games. That's down considerably from his season averages of 14.8, 2.2, 1.1 and 1.0.
The only stat category he has improved upon is rebounds, which have unarguably seen a bump since rookie Jared Sullinger's season-ending back surgery—never mind fellow forward Brandon Bass' issues.
He's also turning the ball over more, giving it away twice a game. And his 2.4 fouls rank higher than the rest of his season.
The Celtics need Garnett to regain his health and level of endurance if they expect to compete in May and June. Coach Doc Rivers will continue to sit him whenever possible, as long as injury, illness or exhaustion affect the big man. But approaching the upcoming stretch without him would seriously hamper Boston's playoff seeding.
The C's face the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks (twice) and Atlanta Hawks in their seven-game, 12-day stretch between now and the end of March. Garnett will be crucial to their success, not just in this last regular-season push, but also in the postseason. His offensive production and defensive intensity must rival his efforts in February, when Boston first caught fire.
Terrible Assist-to-Turnover Ratios
Many have commended the Celtics' strong team-oriented play since floor general Rajon Rondo went down in January. Not many have considered the collective propensity for turnovers his fellow guards have exhibited in his absence.
Starting point guard Avery Bradley has a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. Fellow backcourt starter Courtney Lee sports a 1.65 rate. Jason Terry, whose veteran offensive presence has widely been considered the benchmark for the second unit, leads the Celtics' backcourt with a 2.1 average.
That's not good, especially when the guy Boston has continually turned to for offensive tempo, Paul Pierce, only has a 1.7 assist-to-turnover rate himself.
Maybe come June, when the C's are turning the ball over at alarming rates against solid playoff opponents, people will discontinue notions that Rondo hurt Boston's offense. His 2.84 assist-to-turnover rate still ranks 10th-best in the league.
Terrence Williams (0.9) and Jordan Crawford (1.0) have contributed well individually, but not so much for the team game. They share sloppy tendencies, mixing brilliant passes with throwaways.
Against the league-worst Charlotte Bobcats on March 12, the Celtics suffered a 20-15 assist disparity. The Oklahoma City Thunder also beat them in assists 21-17 on March 10. Boston recorded 31 turnovers to go with 32 assists over the course of those two games. Playoff-bound teams cannot sustain such terrible execution while still expecting to contend for the championship.
80.2 Field Goal Attempts Per Game
The Celtics have very rarely eclipsed the 100-point mark this season, averaging an 18th-best 96.1 per game. Many point to Boston's superior defense, praising their ability to slow opposing fast-break rhythms and half-court sets. But the actual problem lies in lack of offensive attempts.
Boston averages 80.2 shots per game, which ranks 27th in the league. Of course, the Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat accompany the Celtics in the cellar of this category, but with key differentials.
The Clippers, for instance, average 100.8 points a game, almost five more than the Celtics. Oklahoma City and Miami, the respective conference champions, average 106.7 and 103.7. And Brooklyn maintains better free throw and three point numbers.
In the March 18 loss versus the Heat alone, Boston attempted 72 shots to Miami's 85. Turnovers and offensive rebound issues contributed to this disparity, two problems that will continue to haunt the Green in the playoffs if unresolved.
Now that Boston's newcomers have assimilated themselves with the offense, the team must jive better if it hopes to make a postseason run. Rebounding problems, sloppy play and low-percentage shots prove much more costly in a seven-game series than they do in the regular season.
Brandon Bass' -36 Plus-Minus Ratio Since Jared Sullinger's Injury
Brandon Bass occasionally shows flashes of brilliance that make Celtics fans reminisce about the 2011-12 season, when he first came out of his shell. But most of the time, he just shows up and goes through the motions.
Bass has continually disappointed this year, even losing his spot in the starting lineup to rookie Jared Sullinger. But after Sully underwent season-ending back surgery, hopes were high that Bass would again step up with a reclaimed sense of confidence. No such hope.
Since Sully's injury against the Sacramento Kings in late January, Bass has logged an unfathomable -36 in plus-minus points differential. His defense continues to struggle, his jump shot lacks confidence and his drives to the hoop look erratically unfocused.
Many have questioned GM Danny Ainge's decision to sign him to a long-term deal last year. But let's look at his numbers in 2011-12: Bass averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in just under 32 minutes per game, shooting 48 percent from the floor and finishing plus-158 in plus-minus overall.
This year, Bass has logged 7.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in about 27 minutes a contest, a stark contrast and indelible problem. With the exception of a few big moments, he has become a complete liability to the Celtics' progression.
Bass looks poised to enter himself into an unfortunate trivia question: which power forward never deserved to be in a Celtics' playoff lineup? If he continues to struggle, Rivers will have no choice but to offer reserve big men Shavlik Randolph and D.J. White expanded roles down the stretch.
39.9 Team Rebounds Per Game
It's only natural that Brandon Bass brings us to the Celtics' biggest weakness: team rebounds. Boston grabs 39.9 boards per game, second-worst in the league, while allowing 43.7 rebounds to opposing teams.
That's a staggering -3.8 differential, ranking just above the 15-52 Charlotte Bobcats. The Green also sit second-worst in offensive boards with 8.2 per contest, above the San Antonio Spurs by 0.2.
That's how you know the rebound problem isn't a statistical fluke—the Celtics have gaping holes at every possible level. An argument can be made that Miami won last year's championship without dominant rebounding. But nobody wages such debates when looking at this current Celtics lineup.
Which numbers worry you the most about Boston?
Since the All-Star break, KG has grabbed 8.1 boards a game, with Bass totaling only 5.6. Luckily, Pierce has picked up BB's slack with 6.5 rebounds in that span. But the captain cannot be called upon to do everything for this squad.
If the jump-shooting Celtics plan to outlast Miami, never mind bigger lineups like Indiana, New York and Brooklyn, their frontcourt will need to seriously pick up the aggressiveness.
Brandon Bass is not the only issue. If Garnett remains the only power forward/center boxing out down low, the Celtics will embark on an express route to summer fishing, or golfing—or whatever the Hell they do when they aren't competing on the basketball floor.
Maybe Doc Rivers needs to plug Shavlik Randolph in during a game that actually counts. In the March 16 game against Charlotte, he scored six points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds (including four on the offensive side). He may not be the most offensively-adept player on the roster, but he fills an unmistakable void down low.
Boards often prove to be the breaking point of close matches between strong offensive teams. Boston has been out-rebounded 39-33 (vs. Miami) and 48-29 (at Charlotte) in its last two losses, sitting with just 16 games to deal with their low-post predicament.
The Celtics will falter if they ignore these considerable statistical issues, and fail to address them through roster provisions. Sometimes, the numbers don't just speak the truth—they also bite a team in the rear come playoff time.