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The Celtics clutch offense: The Big Three

 

Last night, we took a look at the C’s overall offensive numbers during fourth quarters in which the scoring margin was three points or fewer at any point–something that’s happened in 30 games this year. (Team record: 18-12). The results came as a relief. The next step: taking a look at the Big Three to see if Pierce is carrying the load as much as it seems, and whether KG or Walter Ray change the way they play offense during money time. (Keep in mind: KG missed six of these 30 games–but none of the three that went into OT-meaning he played in 25 out of a possible 31.25 “clutch” quarters. Also, this does not include last night’s game against Miami).

                               2-pt FGs                    3-pt FGs                     FTs                     TOs

Truth                     47-96 (49%)                 8-25 (32%)               84-100 (84%)       25

Ray                        26-45 (58%)                18-54 (33%)              37-38 (97%)         10

KG                         41-72 (57%)                1-3 (33%)                   14-17 (82%)         9

A couple of quick conclusions:

• These guys can really shoot. Look at those two-point percentages.

• Nothing changes in KG’s offensive game in the clutch. (And he never gets to the line anymore).

• Ray reverses his two-point attempt/three-point attempt ratio in crunch time

• Paul Pierce has taken ONE HUNDRED freaking free throws in crunch time. 100!

Let’s start there. That is a remarkable number. Pierce has shot 445 free throws this year, meaning a full 22 percent of his free throw attempts have come in 30 fourth quarters and three overtimes–a span that makes up just 12 percent of the season so far. Read another way, Pierce has gotten to the line twice as often in “clutch” fourth quarters as his normal FTA rate suggests he should have. Pierce has taken 26.7 percent of the Celtics 1,666 free throws overall this season; he’s taken 37.5 percent of the free throws in my “clutch” sample.

There’s one obvious caveat here: About one-quarter (maybe a little bit less) of these “clutch” foul shots came in end-of-game scenarios where the other team fouled Pierce to stop the clock. Even with this in mind, the number of FTAs is still enormous. And it’s a hugely important skill. Jump shots go hot and cold, ingenious plays break down, but Pierce’s will to attack the rim never wavers. Pierce at the foul line is probably the C’s best late-game weapon–even better than a Pierce jumper.

The Celtics also rely heavily on that. Pierce’s 97 total two-point “clutch” FGAs make up 22.5 percent of the Celtics “clutch” total. Overall this season, Pierce has taken 17.7 percent of the team’s two-point field-goal attempts. Clearly, the team leans on the Truth when games get close. (Does this make him the best scorer in Celtic history? It’s an interesting debate). 

But you knew that. What you might not have known is that Ray Allen becomes a little more one-dimensional as close games wind down. The ratio of 54 three-point attempts to 45 two-pointers is positively Posey-ian–and way out of line with Ray’s normal shooting stats. It’s why his relentless mix of lay-ups and mid-range jumpers against Orlando Sunday stood out so starkly. 

So what’s going on here? I suspect part of it has to do with the fact that in fourth quarters of close games, Walter Ray is always on the court with two of the best mid-range scorers in the game’s recent history–Pierce and Garnett. Maybe he gets his best long-distance looks with those guys drawing defenders to the interior. If you charted Ray’s shot attempts by lineup, I bet you’d find he takes more inside shots when he’s playing with the bench, handling the ball and taking on more of the scoring burden. 

One other thing: That 37-of-38 mark from the foul line–nice. 

After the jump, we take a look at the Big Ticket.

Finally, we come to KG. His stats in these situations almost exactly mirror his overall numbers. He takes about 3.4 shots per quarter overall and about three shots in each “clutch” fourth quarter–meaning he shoots relatively less often in these situations, since he plays more minutes in the “clutch” than otherwise. 

For better or worse, this is KG. He is not going to start jacking up shots or bulling his way to the rim in the fourth quarter. I mean, Eddie House has taken more shots per minute in these 30 fourth quarters than KG (we will cover Eddie’s fondness for his own shot in a later post). For a certain segment of basketball fans, this will always be the knock on KG. I’ve given up trying to figure it out, but I don’t think he cowers from the moment. Chris Webber cowered. KG does not cower. He took some big shots last year, and he went off for 32-20-8 in his first big time Game 7 with Minnesota in 2004. Maybe he is truly, genuinely unselfish. Maybe he thinks that passing less will hurt the offense and exerting more effort  posting up Pau Gasol will deplete the tank for defense. 

I don’t know. But I do know this: The biggest change in KG’s game this year is the drop in his free throw attempts, which is reflected here. (Six of those 17 FTAs came in end-of-game situations with the C’s up five or more and 30 seconds or less left; see this game log, for instance). His per-36 minute FTAs have dropped by half  since last year–from 5.2 (and 6.0 the year before) to 2.7. 

That’s a sharp drop. Maybe it’s a function of him hurting for much of the year. Maybe he’s trying to conserve his body for the playoffs, and he’ll be more aggressive in May than December. 

Either way, that mid-range jumper is still a nasty, nasty weapon–in the clutch and otherwise.

  • drza44

    Thank you for these two crunch time articles, as they are in depth and very interesting. On this particular one, though, there are 2 things that I think weaken the conclusions that you reach: 1) you didn't include total minutes played in these situations, and 2) you didn't look at a wide enough array of stats.

    1) Because your research was so in depth, I don't have access to all of the numbers that you do. But I do know that to open most 4th quarters this year, Pierce is in there with the 2nd unit while Ray and KG rest and that KG is often the last of the Big 3 to come off the bench in the 4th. Thus, Pierce plays a lot more 4th quarter minutes in general even beyond KG's injury. According to 82games.com, Pierce has played 483 total minutes in the 4th quarter, Ray 396 minutes, and KG 257 minutes. Now that's overall 4th quarter minutes (not just the 30 games you cite), but if that ratio holds true in minutes played in clutch 4th quarters then you are severely skewing your data by posting total shots made/attempted without accounting for minutes played. By the totals you post, Pierce has 202 points in clutch 4th Qs, Ray has 143 points, and KG has 99 points. But if you adjust based on their total 4th quarter minutes ratio, Pierce would have 107 points, KG 99, and Ray 93. That's a wonking big difference in the impressions/conclusions one would take from your article, if that minutes ratio holds true.

    2) I disagree that being clutch is purely about points scored, so I also like 82games.com's approach of looking at all stats in their defined "clutch" (final 5 minutes of 4th quarters within 5 points). Again, based on their clutch definition, this is how the Big 3 look per 48 minutes:

    Truth: 37.6 points, 44.4% FG (21.7 FGA), 81% FT (20.7 FTA), 40% 3s (3.4 trey attempts), 4.5 reb, 6.9 asts, 4.8 TOs, 0 blks, 1.4 steals

    Ray: 24.4 points, 42.9% FG (14.6 FGA), 96% FT (9.1 FTA), 34.6% 3s (9.1 trey attempts), 4.5 reb, 1.4 asts, 1.4 TOs, 0 blks, .3 steals

    KG: 25.5 points, 64.7% FG (17 FGA), 77% FT (4.5 FTA), 0 3s, 13.5 reb, 4.0 asts, 2.5 TOs, 4.0 blks, 3.0 steals

    To me, this gives a much more accurate view of how the Big 3 have perform in the clutch this season. Truth has been the primary scorer/initiator, Ray more of a 3-pt threat/game icer at the line, KG the efficient scorer/secondary offense initiator that dominates on defense. I have no problem with the way you define crunch time instead of how 82games does it, and if you want to look purely at offense (like your title suggests) then that's fine too. But if you're going to make conclusions on how important the Big 3 are in the clutch then I think you have to look at more than just scoring since there are more ways to win than just scoring, and the Big 3 each have well defined areas in which they are relied upon to lead both in regular and in crunch time situations.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    Great comment, man. I didn't look at minutes because I was tallying it on a game-by-game basis, and it would have taken me forever to do that for each player. But you're right–it would have been useful. If there's a site out there that breaks down minutes played–in each game–by quarter, let me know.

  • Pingback: Celtics Clutch Offense: Non-Big Three, and the Importance of Tony and Leon | Celtics Hub

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