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A Big Issue: Boston’s First Quarter Letdowns

“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
Houston 22-28
Indiana 15-20
New Jersey 23-14
Milwaukee 20-9
Philadelphia 22-25
Clippers 17-30

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.

  • Mike

    This is actually something I think Shaq can help improve once he comes back. But its weird (or not) that these low scoring first halves started after the trade, especially because Perkins wasn't a scoring beast.

  • dslack


    Also, a stretch of nearly 4 minutes in the 4th quarter (from nearly 8 minutes to go to just over 4 minutes) led to 7 unproductive offensive possessions (5 missed shots and 2 turnovers) and turned a 77-76 lead into an 84-77 deficit. (Pierce didn't take a single shot in those 4 minutes; he then proceeded to single-handedly bring the team back into the game.)

  • furious george

    Wow, looks like we could be playing at Miami, at Chicago, and at Los Angeles to win the title. Talk about digging holes……..

    • Mike

      We have to play them all anyway to win our 18th championship, so it doesn't matter we just have to play better. I'm really hoping at this point Shaq and JO are being ''repaired'' for the playoffs.

      • kricky

        Every time I look up Shaq is mugging for the crowd in some charity event, reality TV type thing, or commercial.


  • kricky

    Time to face facts:

    Green is not as good as we thought he was. (He wasn't even on the floor to close the game out)

    Krstic is reverting back to his old form.

    Murphy is completely useless – even Erden was better.

    We'll need BOTH O'Neals back and playing to make a serious title run.

    Does anyone out there still want to try and defend the trade?

  • Mike

    Exactly. Remember last year CLE did the same thing to Shaq and rested him for the playoffs. With Shaq, JO and even Kristic the frontcourt will regain its dominance and hopefully rebouding. I would rather have Shaq rested for the playoffs than making him play these type of games right now. JO probably will need some games under his belt to shake of the rust. (and yes I do think he's going to win us a game)

    • kricky

      Mike, I really hope you are right. But you can't blame anyone for having their doubts the way the injuries have played out this year.

  • kricky

    Thanks dslack. That was the point I was trying to make. That we are now completely dependent on the O'Neals coming back and playing well.

    As much as I truly wish for it to come true, you know the old saying: wish in one hand and …. in the other and see which one fills up first :(

  • Lakersfan

    (like always, I want to see a Celts v. Lakers Finals; e.g. I want to see the Celts do well in the East Playoffs)

    Completely agree with this article. So (Too?) much is made of the 4th quarter because casual fans see a tight game decided during the 4th. But many games aren't tight and those were usually decided during the first quarter when one team established its will and tempo for the rest of the game.

    I mean, let's look at it logically. Every game's 1st quarter matters as the game is still in doubt. Not every game's 4th quarter matters as the winning team may already have a 20pt lead at the end of the 3rd.

    But I too am troubled by the Celtics' malaise and unwillingness to dictate the terms of the game. One theme during this Lakers' dominance since the All-Star break is that they've controlled the 1st Q. They either ended it with a double digit lead or they dictated the tempo, forcing the other team to play the game the way the Lakers want it.

    I'm not seeing that with the Celtics. They're not imposing their will on their opponents. I don't know enough about the Celts to try to figure out what's causing it, but I see it and I promise you, opposing teams' scouts see it too. Certainly Brian Robb sees it. If you can control the 1st Q against the Celts, you got a really good chance of beating them. This won't matter in the 1st round, but in the ECSemi's I assure you that the Heats will try to exploit this by running at all times and create as much possession as possible.