NC Playoff Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics


Apr 10, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) shoots against Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass (30) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

For each first round series, the staff at Nylon Calculus has put together some visual comparisons of the opposing teams featuring many of the metrics and techniques we’ve been tracking and using all season. This page features charts and visualizations comparing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics.

Series Notes

by Justin Willard – @AcrossTheCourt

I have two different team ratings that conclude Rondo is a below average player in terms of actually helping his team win games. For the Celtics, getting rid of Rondo means that they have room for Avery Brady, Marcus Smart, and Isaiah Thomas. Somehow, this star-less team improved when they sent out their remaining star – but of course that’s glossing over what Rondo could, and could not, do for Boston. It’s a funky, odd team, but they’re running into LeBron and pals and there’s a good chance they’ll be steamrolled. Alas.

At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Cavaliers would have a historic offense. This looked like a stupid prediction for a while, but after LeBron came back from his two-week rest period the team has scored at a historic rate: 114.4 points per 100 possessions, via basketball-reference, which is nearly 9 points better than the league average. That’s really only happened once (the Nowitzki-Nash Mavericks) and it’s because, as I’ve said before, the Cavaliers can reach a high true-shooting percentage via all their drives from LeBron and Irving with a lot of three-pointers along with a healthy offensive rebound rate. That’s a rate combination, and with a healthy LeBron the Celtics don’t really have a way to stop their offense. Plus, they’ve done this with Love ailing all season. His back issues will be vital for Cleveland in the next rounds and he should be closely monitored here, but at least his shooting slump has partially vanished, which is something I discuss a lot that a few people disagree with. He’s been shooting 41% since the all-star break from three-point land. As for the match-ups, look for Bradley and Smart to rough up Irving, but the best defender for LeBron is probably Crowder off the bench and there’s not much else. This series, unless Stevens pulls out some magic, could be short. (I hope the Cavs experiment with smallball lineups, as the Celtics aren’t big enough to take advantage of this.)

Cavs rating with LeBron: 7.08
Celtics rating without Rondo: 0.92

Odds: Cavs 91.5%

(Team ratings are per 100 possessions. The ratings were calculated with ridge regression for better estimates and with one key player in/out of the game. (Playing fewer than 10 minutes counted as being out.) This means every playoff team had two variables. These numbers are used in conjunction with ratings derived from long-term RPM, as seen on, to calculate the odds.)

Shot Charts

by Austin Clemens – @AustinClemens2

These special editions of Austin’s NBA shot charts show offense by each team over the full season. Like other shot charts they show the volume of shots (dot size) and the FG% of the team from that spot compared to the league average (color – warmer colors are better). As a special feature for these playoff previews, these charts also use SportVU data [is this correct? I always get vantage v sportvu confused] to show how closely shots taken by each team are defended on average. On average, defenders of shots taken near the hoop are about 3 feet away from the offensive player when a shot is taken, whereas defenders of 3-point shots are usually more than 5 feet away from the shooter on average. The large transparent circles behind each dot on the chart have a radius equal to the average distance a defender is from team players when a shot is taken from that particular location. A bigger circle means defenders are farther away and suggests that the offense is generating good looks for its shooters.

Team Offense-Defense Matchups

By Krishna Narsu – @Knarsu3

These charts compare the offensive and defensive efficiency for the two squads over the course of the season. As always, lower efficiency is better for a teams’ defense.

Rotation Comparisons

by Seth Partnow – @SethPartnow & Kevin Ferrigan – @NBACouchSide

Comparisons of regular season production by Daily RAPM Estimate and True Usage components.  


by Matt D’Anna — @hoop_nerd

TeamSPACE Hunting Grounds map the clusters of repeated success for a group of players. Generally, there are two themes worth observing in any chart: overlap and size. The degree of overlap can indicate either the beauty of a fine-tuned offensive scheme, or general chaos. The ‘good’ overlap is where multiple players systematically hit from the same areas on the court; Golden State, Atlanta, and San Antonio are great examples. The ‘bad’ overlap is evidenced by mis-mashed swaths of color blending together; Boston, and to a lesser extent Cleveland and Memphis, fit this mold. Second, size matters. Typically the more precise the Hunting Grounds (smaller), the better. This type of precision represents a degree of spatial efficiency, freeing up space for other teammates activity. Notable examples include James Harden and Dirk Nowitzki.

While this is probably less-than-ideal spatial activity, given the parts the Celtics have been working with, it’s unfair to label this as anything worse. There is a fair amount of clutter, but the skills sets also have a fair amount of clutter, so it’s expected. The shooting styles of Avery Bradley and Evan Turner come to mind. Isaiah Thomas is a bit of a space hog, but it appears to have been a welcome scoring addition.

This is a very good team, but this is a crowded court. Some of may be of the “good crowded” variety, but disambiguating between the “good” and “bad” overlap is a bit tricky for Cleveland. Love and JR are expected to overlap this much; they are the receipts of the Lebron and Kyrie slash-and-kick games. This season Lebron has continued the super-precision he honed in Miami. Kyrie and Lebron are a bit redundant in the midrange; Kyrie is active from the same areas, but in bigger chunks of the court. It’ll be fun to monitor this activity in the postseason

Offensive Styles

by Ian Levy — @HickoryHigh

These charts represent offensive style, not effectiveness. On each axis, distance from the center represents increasing quantity (or efficiency in the case of shot selection). Read more about how they’re constructed here.

This series will present an enormous contrast in offensive style with Boston and Cleveland being almost diametrically opposed on all four axes. The Celtics play very fast, with the Cavaliers preferring a slower, more deliberate pace. On Boston’s side, the players and the ball fly all around the court while Cleveland’s offense features a lot of standstill shooters spotting up around pick-and-rolls. You can also see the shot selection difference with the Celtics taking a lot of mid-range jumpers and the Cavaliers with a far-greater percentage of their shots coming on three-pointers and around the rim.