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The Celtics crunch time offense: overall numbers

Last week, Kevin Pelton debunked the notion that experienced teams are better at winning close games than inexperienced teams. He basically found that good teams are better at winning close games than bad teams, but the gap between them shrinks when the scoring margins narrow–that a team winning 80 percent of blowouts it plays in, for instance, should only be expected to win about 60 percent of games decided by five points or less. 

Kevin was kind enough to send me his data specifically on the Celtics. Last year, the champs went 11-9 in games decided by five or less; at the time Kevin sent me the data, this year’s team was 9-5.

I used Kevin’s post as an excuse to look a little deeper at how this year’s Celtics do in close games, but I used a different definition of “close”: a game in which the scoring margin is three points or less at some point in the fourth quarter. This definition throws out games in which a trailing team rallies against the Bench Mob to get within five, and it includes games in which is a team is in serious danger of losing but pulls away to win by more than five. 

The Celtics have played 30 such games this season; they are 18-12. 

I was most interested in how the C’s offense performs in “clutch” fourth quarters–whether they are more efficient, take more threes, commit more turnovers, etc. To do this, I looked at the fourth quarter of all 30 games–and three overtime periods. That adds up to 31.25 quarters of basketball–almost exactly 12 percent of the minutes the team has played this year. In this post, we’ll look at the general numbers only. Tomorrow morning, I’ll post about the Big Three’s play in the clutch. After that, we’ll get to the role players

Here are the team’s general offensive stats for these “clutch” quarters next to the C’s overall stats for the season:

                                                       “Clutch”                                   Overall

2-pt FGs                                        214-425 (50.4 %)                   1984-3868 (51.2%)

3-pt FGs                                        51-145 (35 %)                        412-1056 (39%)

FTs                                                 216-266 (81%)                       1284-1666 (77%)

True Shooting                                    58 %                                        57.3 %

Turnovers                                         110                                          1014

You can tell immediately that the Celtics offense is just about as efficient in the “clutch” as it is otherwise–pretty damn efficient. They don’t shoot the ball as well from the floor, but they make up for it by getting to the line more often (and hitting the FTs) and taking better care of the ball. This is nothing earth-shattering, but it’s something of a validation of Doc’s late-game coaching and proof that the C’s have evolved from the “throw the ball to Pierce and stand around” crunch time strategy.

(Please note this caveat for everything that comes below: I don’t have the computer programming know-how to go back and break this stuff down on a possession-by-possession basis, which is of course more precise because if factors in pace. Sorry. I’d love to learn, though). 

Take those 110 turnovers. They constitute 10.8 percent of the team’s total turnovers this year, which means the C’s are coughing up the rock at a slightly lower rate in the clutch than they do during the rest of the game. (Remember, the “clutch sample” accounts for 12 percent of minutes played). It’s a very small drop, but it’s a good sign, especially considering that opponents are playing harder on defense and that more of the offensive responsibility falls on fewer players. 

The 266 free throw attempts represent 16 percent of the team’s total FTAs for the season–again, higher than the expected 12 percent. Garbage time free throws–the result of other teams fouling Boston to stop the clock–probably account for a lot of this. 

The C’s also shoot more threes in the clutch than they do in the non-clutch. Those 145 three-point attempts make up 14 percent of the team’s deep heaves this season–slightly more than you’d expect. 

Enough with the general stats. Tomorrow we get to the fun stuff: Are all of the Big 3 carrying the load in the clutch?

  • Colin Blair

    I'd expect that TOs are down because there is less tom follery that comes when a team gets too loosy-goosy with big leads. My 2nd guess is that PP goes more to the hole in the clutch (which would be in accordance with what Tommy says you should do)

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