“It’s amazing for both teams the emphasis that we’ve put on the first quarters,” Doc Rivers said. “It really has been [important]…It basically sets the tone.”
“I think first quarters are always key,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Everybody talks about it being a fourth quarter league but if you look at the statistics, it’s very much a first quarter league.”
Those lines are from May 2010, after the Boston Celtics wrapped up a 4-2 series win over the Orlando Magic. Generally, I’m not a big fan of listening to Van Gundy’s whiny tone, but in this case the Orlando headman has a point.
Last night, the Celtics struggled mightily down the stretch and mustered just 17 points in the fourth quarter. A lot of people will point to this, and a lack of execution late as reasons for the loss, but there’s a bigger issue stemming here, something that Doc and Stan have been on top of for awhile; the slow starts.
The C’s scored just 15 points in the opening frame last night and dug themselves a 5-point hole against Memphis. Sadly, those numbers have been par for the course in the past nine games, as the Celtics have struggled through a 4-5 record. Here’s a breakdown of how they have fared in those contests, followed by the point total of their opponent in the firstMemphis: 15-20
New York 22-25
New Orleans 14-28
New Jersey 23-14
Put it altogether and you get some alarming numbers to look at over that stretch. Over those 9 games, the C’s are averaging 18.8 points in the first quarter, which is nearly 6 points below their season average for the frame (24.2 according to Hoopsstats.com). They are also shooting just 41.2 percent as a team over those opening frames, seven percentage points below their season average.
On a whole, the Celtics defense has been consistent early on despite the offensive struggles, yet nonetheless they are still being outscored by an average of three points (21.8 points 1st quarter opponent average) over that stretch.
A lot of this lack of production goes back to a lot of the starters being in slumps these past 10 games, but Van Gundy is right when he says the numbers back him up when it comes to the first quarter, especially at home. The C’s are 21-1 on the season at the TD Garden when they lead after the 1st quarter, something they’ve failed to do in three of their past four contests at home against inferior opponents. In a related story, Boston has lost two of those games.
Overall, Boston has a lot of problems right now, but the team is simply not playing well enough to dig itself out of holes. And instead of improving their climbing skills, they would be much better off not falling into the hole in the first place.