What are the implications of this?
If you click that link—and you should, so here it is again—it will take you to a knockout piece in which NBA.com’s John Schuhmann breaks down how various teams (and the league as a whole) fare on a quarter-by-quarter basis.
And the centerpiece of his must-read (MUST-READ) piece is this: The Celtics have played poorly in the 2nd halves of games. And, more specifically, the Celtics’ offense has played very poorly in the second halves of games:
In fact, only two teams, the Nets and Sixers, have more losses than the Celtics do when leading at halftime. Boston has led 52 of their 71 games at the half, but 16 of their 25 losses have come in that situation.
Is it an age thing? Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace all shoot worse in the second half than they do in the first. Wallace’s dropoff, from 47.8 percent in the first half to 33 percent in the second half, is by far the largest of any player in the league who has attempted at least 200 shots in each half this season. Yet, for some reason, he’s attempted more shots in the second half (294) than he has in the first (278). Pierce suffers the next worst dropoff of the four Celtics vets, from 49.9 percent to 44.2 percent.
Sophisticated quarter-by-quarter stats are tough to come by, so Schuhmann’s piece is invaluable. He includes Boston’s quarter-by-quarter efficiency numbers, and the trend is clear: The C’s play declines in the 2nd half, mostly on the offensive end. Here are the quarter-by-quarter offensive efficiency numbers (i.e. points per 100 possessions):
Only one team in the entire league scores fewer than 100.9 points per 100 possessions, and they play in New Jersey and have won 8 games this season. Only four teams score fewer than 103.2 points per 100 possessions, and none of them will make the playoffs.
Now, context is important, and Schuhmann offers it by explaining the league as a whole scores less efficiently as games go on. (Note: Please go read the whole story if you’re interested. Schuhmann offers some reader-friendly bullet points about most of the key teams in the league as well as league-wide trends).
But the steepness of the C’s in-game offensive decline is problematic.
The most important question is: What, if anything, can the Celtics do about this? Should the coaching staff tweak the rotation at all? If so, how?
Do you play the starters fewer minutes in the first half? Do you play the bench more in the 3rd quarter? Do you play Sheed fewer minutes early if you plan to use him late? The possibilities are almost infinite, and perhaps dangerous to try so late in the season.
But you’ve got to try something, right?
Or are these numbers the product of a small enough sample size that you don’t pay them much heed?