Points in the paint has been a major key in the Eastern Conference Finals

One simple stat has told the story of the Cavs and Celtics

Jake Chapman
May 22, 2018 - 5:07 pm

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports


One of the reasons I love basketball is its simplicity.

I know many casual sports fans that have no idea what are the rules in football. Baseball has an entire book of unwritten rules which isn’t just annoying, it’s physically impossible. And even soccer and hockey, extremely simple concepts, have the offside rule which seems to be a very complicated idea for folks who might not know Sidney Crosby or Ronaldo.

Some of basketball’s rules are odd, but an alien could land on planet earth and pretty quickly pick up the spirit of the game. Bounce sphere while running, then put it through the flat circle more times than the opponent.

This is also why basketball is so easy to discuss. Folks like me can wax poetic for hours on end about basketball without ever saying a thing. Watch.

The Cavs MUST be aggressive to begin Game 5. They can’t let the Celtics gain confidence.

Boston was more intense and physical in Games 1 and 2, but they lost their edge on the road.

Boston had no sense of urgency in Games 3 and 4.

The Cavs just imposed their will on the Celtics.

Like, what the hell does any of this mean?

Nothing. And something. It’s just how we talk about hoops.

In the Cavs and Celtics’ case, all those empty words do have a bit of meaning however.

Through the first 4 games of the series, whichever team has scored more points in the paint has been the winner. Points in the paint, an incredibly simple stat, doesn’t exactly draw a ton of conclusions in terms of X’s and O’s. Sometimes it’s shoddy perimeter defense that allows for dribble penetration and finishes or dump-offs.

Sometimes it’s poor rim protection, rebounding or post defense, which would obviously put the onus on the frontcourt. Sometimes it’s just incredible offensive players, like James Harden or Russell Westbrook, enjoying one of their better nights and attacking the paint at will. But regardless of the actual basketball conclusions you come to, the beauty of the stat is its simplicity.

I need to put this sphere in that flat circle. I probably stand a better chance the closer I get to said circle.

And that’s why yes, you can say the Cavs “imposed their will” and they were “the aggressors” who played with “more intensity” in Games 3 and 4.

The Cavs scored 50 paint points in Game 4 Monday, and one of the obvious issues early in the game was Brad Stevens’ preference toward switching screens. Time and again the Cavs offense forced a switch with the 6’2' Terry Rozier asked to check a much larger Cavalier.

Whether it was LeBron James or Kevin Love or Jeff Green, they’d bully their way to the bucket en route to an easy conversion. Imposing their will indeed.

Meanwhile the Celtics will hope to recapture the paint dominance they enjoyed in Games 1 and 2, when they averaged 55 paint points a night.

Whether it’s dominating the glass, getting Al Horford going in the post somehow, or finding cutters headed toward the hoop, the Celtics will hope to be hovering around the 50 points in the paint plateau in Game 5.

If they don't, they're in trouble.

Of course, there are so many other variables and important aspects to a game.

In today's NBA, the 3-ball rules. When the Cavs dropped 17-34 triples in Game 3, they only outscored the Celtics by 4 in the paint and yet they won by 30. The Cavs can win against a good team if they're having a hot shooting night.

But offensive balance is key, and getting shots at the rim is one of the most effective ways to open up the perimeter. No matter how you slice it, getting to the rack is a good thing. Ditto for defending it.

It’s a simple stat that doesn’t say much. But it’s hoops, so sometimes it can speak volumes.