I was talking with a good friend of mine, Dan (@dmorganh), when he asked me a question that I did not know how to answer. He asked me, “Do you think the Celtics would have won both game 1 and game 2 in the first-round series against the Chicago Bulls if they did NOT play Isaiah Thomas?” My initial reaction was, “Are you nuts?” The Celtics really struggle when IT4 does not play and contribute at least 20 points, but his follow up response got me thinking and being a finance consultant who digs down into company financial statements, it made me look deeper into the stats from both games.
Now, I am going to look at each game individually. If you look at Isaiah Thomas’ contributions for Game 1, Thomas contributed 38 of 48 minutes, scoring 33 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 steal, but he also had 6 turnovers. In fact, all together the Celtics turned over the ball 16 times and allowed 18 points scored off those turnovers. My basketball coaches in high school told me that a turnover was not giving the other team two to three points, but it was actually four to six points because what you could have scored on one end of the floor, you gave up and gave to the opposing team. Instead of the Celtics having an additional two or three points, they now are down two or three points. The Celtics lost game 1 by only 4 points (106-102 Final). If you subtract Isaiah Thomas’ 33 points he contributed, but add back 36 points (18 points given to the Bulls off turnovers times two since those 18 points are points the Celtics could and should have scored), this would lead to a final score where the Celtics lose by only a single point.
Now the Celtics still lose in that scenario, but if IT4 had not played the Bulls in game 1, the game would have had a different ending; even though, the Bulls may still come out on top.
Let’s look at game 2 of this series. The final score of game 2 between the Bulls and the Celtics was 111-97. Isaiah Thomas contributed 42 of 48 minutes, scored only 20 points this game, and had less rebounds and assists, 4 and 2, respectively. In game 2, Thomas still gives up 5 turnovers, and in total, the Celtics made 16 turnovers again, and instead of only giving up 18 points off those 16 same turnovers, the Celtics gave up 23 points. If the same logic applies as described above, then taking away Isaiah Thomas’ contributions and adding back 46 points gives the Celtics a 12-point win over the Bulls.
Now this article is entirely an opinion, and the results that are derived in this article will never come to fruition, but the idea of changing the number of turnovers in one or two games by not playing a particular player can really make a difference in the Win-Loss column for a NBA team. There are also several other variables that don’t make this analysis perfect, but it gives Celtics’ fans a picture of how turnovers can change a basketball game from going one team’s way to the other. So, the way I see these numbers is Isaiah Thomas probably should have sat out at least one of the two first-round playoff games, if not both games. Game 3 is tonight at 7:00 EST in Chicago, and Isaiah Thomas should be set to play this game. If Isaiah Thomas is ready and if the Celtics can reduce the number of turnovers, the result will be like the results that were derived in this article. To see what else the Celtics need to do in game 3 to win, read my colleague Kenny Doyle’s article “Inside the Celtics Struggles by the Numbers”, where he goes even further into the Celtics’ stats and elaborates on what the Celtics can do better tonight.
Photo: (Fox Sports Asia)