1976 was one of the most balanced years the NBA has seen. There was a clear "best team in the league", Rick Barry's Golden State Warriors. Beyond the Warriors, there were a handful of good, but flawed, teams. There were the aging Celtics, led by Dave Cowens, who did not feature a meaningful contributor under 27. There were the anonymous Cavaliers (2nd in point differential), who were paced in points, rebounds, and assists by Jim Chones, Jim Brewer, and Jim Cleamons. There were the Unseld-Hayes Bullets, Bob McAdoo's Braves, and the Phoenix Suns, led by Paul Westphal and Alvan Adams.
As many of you probably know, the Celtics outlasted Phoenix in an exciting, if sloppy, championship series after the Suns had upset Golden State under unusual circumstances. But my question is, why were the Celtics good enough to win 50+ games and a championship? This is where Four Factors comes in. The Four Factors are shooting, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws. Since these four categories cover every interaction that takes place on a basketball court, looking at them tells you what teams are doing better (or worse) than their opponents.
1.) Shooting. The Celtics were the 17th most accurate team in the league (by eFG%). Out of 18 teams. The good news is that they were the fifth best at stopping opponents from making shots, so they were only outshot by three percentage points. Still, one does not expect a championship contender to be outshot. There was plenty of blame to go around on this category. (The '76 Celtics had no depth, so I'll be focusing on the starters.) In a league that shot 46%, Cowens shot 47%, Havlicek, Charlie Scott, and Jo Jo White shot 45%, and Paul Silas shot 43%. Mediocre offense wasn't new for the Celtics, but by this point the field goal defense had slipped from "great" to "good".
2.) Rebounding. Here's where Boston won most of their games. The team led the league in offensive rebounding, and was a close second in defensive rebounding behind the tough, but offensively inept, Chicago Bulls, finishing well ahead of the number three New York Knicks. Cowens and Silas did most of the work here, combining for over half of Boston's total rebounds. Cowens averaged 16 a game, and Silas grabbed 13, second and fourth in the league respectively. The next highest was Charlie Scott with 4.4 a game. In fact, Silas grabbed more rebounds than Scott, Havlicek, and White combined. The Celtics also got some good rebounding out of reserve forwards Jim Ard and Steve Kuberski, but most of the credit here goes to Cowens and Silas for destroying opponents on the glass.
3.) The Celtics also compensated for their poor shooting by not turning the ball over that much, finishing fifth in that category. However, that success was outweighed by the fact that they were the worst team in the league at forcing turnovers, as might be expected from an old team. The guards were especially disappointing in this regard, getting about the same amount of steals as the 35 year old Havlicek and the center.
4.) Boston also rarely got to the foul line, finishing 13th in this category. Silas and reserve Don Nelson were the only Celtics especially good at reaching the foul line, while Jo Jo White somehow managed to take only 3.1 free throws compared to 18.2 field goal attempts per game. Boston was good at keeping opponents from reaching the free throw line, finishing third in that category. All of the starters except Charlie Scott deserve the credit here. Jo Jo White fouled the least, but Cowens and Silas' numbers are impressively low for good interior defenders.
By looking at the Four Factors, how did Boston win? Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding, and the ability of most of the team to play solid defense without fouling. That's really it. At everything else, they were anywhere from close to average to bad. But the presence of two great rebounders, along with good team defense, was enough to win another championship for Boston in lieu of any great teams.