Bobcats vs. Heat Game 1

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Kevin Garnett: Is He Still the Guy to Anchor the Boston Celtics Defense?

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Kevin Garnett: Is He Still the Guy to Anchor the Boston Celtics Defense?
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Is that KG or Spencer's buddy Hawk?

Abacus has come to the realization that he’s really not properly introduced or identified himself to the Bleacher Report readership.  An abacus is a primitive counting machine, while Abacus himself is always open to any creative ideas about what a number reveals.

Basketball is a game of alternating possessions—unless you’re playing at one goal with your buddies under “Make It, Take It” rules.  Convert more of your possessions than the other guys and you’ll win.

Conversely, stop your opponent more often than they can stop you and you’ll win.

Either way, the percentage (a simple enough combination of numbers, even for an abacus) of successful possessions, whether measured offensively or defensively, should reveal the outcome of a basketball game.  Does that not make logical sense?

The concept (dare Abacus call it a statistic?) holds up to scrutiny for the opening round playoff victories this past season of both the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.  In their sweep of the New York Knicks, the Celtics’ offensive efficiency was 51 percent, compared to the Knicks 46 percent.  Likewise, the Heat out-performed Philadelphia 53 percent to 48 percent.

The percentage is simply the ratio of “successful possessions”—that is, a possession which results in a made field goal or free throw attempts before the defense regains possession of the ball—to “total possessions." This is determined by: Field Goal Attempts + (Free Throw Attempts x 0.475) + Turnovers – Offensive Rebounds.  Calculate successful possessions by: Made Field Goals + (Free Throw Attempts x 0.475).

photo from marysrosaries.com

If you think about it, the concept/statistic (Offensive Efficiency?) seems valid.  And in 68 out of 81 NBA playoff games this spring, the winning team graded out higher on this scale.  Oddly, the Lakers outperformed Dallas in each of the first three games of their frustrating loss, yet managed to find a way to lose each time.  The numbers for the series were so badly skewed by the Game Four romp that Dallas held a 52-49 percent edge for the overall series.

OK, so what revelation can Abacus divine from the Celtics’ disappointing loss to the high-flying Heat by looking at those games from this angle?  We shall see, Abacus hopes.

In all five games of the series, the winning team had more successful possessions, from as few as four more (48-44) in Miami’s overtime Game Four win at the Garden, to as many as seven more in two of Miami’s home victories.  Overall, Miami performed at a 52 percent rate of efficiency (236 successful possessions out of 455) compared to Boston’s 48 percent (217 out of 451).

Now, we’re still on solid ground logically from our original premise about a game of alternating possessions.  Additionally, these numbers confirm what our eyes were telling us while watching those painful games—close in an OT contest, not so close in double-figure wins.  (The Celtics won the “successful possession” battle 45-40 in their only victory.)

Marc Serota/Getty Images
Edge and Christian had this gimmick in the WWF years ago

But our eyes kept telling us that, sooner or later, LeBron and his boys were going to clamp down that D, get themselves off on a run, and take control of the game.  And, alas, so it went.  Our poor men in green couldn’t find a decent shot anywhere, and it was game, set and match in a couple of blinks.

The Heat stayed on their roll until Mr. Wade posed too long in Game Two of the Finals, Jason Terry and his brethren took umbrage, and Coronationus Interruptus arrived from Ancient Rome (via Germany, maybe).

(If you’ll pardon a moment of shameless self-promotion here, check out what else Abacus reveals about Wade’s pose and sportsmanship in general nowadays.  Lord knows, this piece needs a few reads—she tells Abacus she’s lonely!)

Almost 30 years ago, when a playoff malady was diagnosed as Andrew Toney of the 76ers, Red Auerbach went out and got Dennis Johnson, and championship success ensued—at the mere cost of Rick Robey.

Let Abacus offer a diagnosis, based on some numbers, for this most recent case of Celtic playoff malaise.  First, the Celtics ever so slightly out-shot Miami in the series, 166-164 in made field goals as well as FG Percentage (.455-.451).  Miami scored more field goals than the Celtics in only one game.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Well, he's built like Wes Unseld.

The big difference was in free throws. The Heat attempted nine more per game and made almost seven more.  And that, folks, was decisive.

But how did such a big discrepancy happen?

Considering the late-game meltdowns, it’s tempting to want to blame turnovers.  But the comparative numbers don’t bear this out; 69 for Boston to 66 for Miami over five games.

The Heat smoked them on the offensive boards, winning that battle in all but the first game of the series, averaging 9.4 a game to the Celtics’ 6.8.

An old coaching adage is that you’re not through playing defense until you’ve secured the ball.  It seems to apply here.

So were the Heat that good (not in the next round against the Bulls, who out-did them by a 2-1 margin in offensive rebounds), or was there a Celtic break down?

Is Kevin Garnett too old and broken-down to get the job done any more?

Did he just not have enough help, and a Kendrick Perkins-type? Or is better play from Big Baby Davis all that’s needed?

Ken Levine/Getty Images
Could this guy help?

Garnett provided 71 games and over 30 minutes a night last season, but at 35 years of age, injury and mileage begin to take a toll.

As Abacus advocated in an article earlier this week, an emphasis on securing the defensive backboard and triggering a revitalized running game might be a way to prolong KG’s effectiveness, and counter what seemed to be a playoff advantage for a chief rival.

Now, an additional big body or two will be required to make this work, as well as a team commitment.  "No rebounds, no rings," as Pat Riley once famously said.

To bring this wandering discourse back to greener pastures: Did you know that the third leading defensive rebounder on the 1976 NBA World Champion Boston Celtics was point guard Jo Jo White at about three or four a game?  Most of them fell right into his lap just inside the free-throw line because Cowens had one side of the lane sealed off and Silas the other.  A collaborative effort, you see?

Garnett still has the will and skill to make it happen.

Now all we need is a season to find out if an abacus is also a crystal ball.

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