Fresh out of their 2022 NBA Finals berth, the Boston Celtics ensured they came in the season with a vengeance. It explains why their 2022-2023 NBA season slogan is “Unfinished Business” and why they play more aggressively than ever. With all this said, a recurring set of problems has happened at a specific point during games.
The problem that will have Red Auerbach rolling in his grave? Boston’s production drops significantly starting in the third quarter. Here’s why:
Celtics and Their Biggest Enemy — The Halftime Buzzer
The First Half
Joe Mazzulla‘s Celtics are known to be a jump-shooting and flare screen-heavy offense. It makes them one of the more perimeter-oriented teams in the NBA. With the exception of Robert Williams III, the C’s core offense involves good shooting big men with the likes of Al Horford, Luke Kornet, and even Jayson Tatum at times. Their guards also boast good scoring numbers, whether it’s Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, or Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.
This system made them the most successful first quarter team. After the first 12 minutes of play, Boston finishes with the third best points per game production (30.3). They also have the best point difference margin because the leads they build amount to 2.9 points on average more than their opponents. Their defense also does not slouch because they only allow 27.4 points for their matchups — that’s good enough to rank them third in defensively in the league.
Boston is at the peak of their offensive powers in the second quarter. Jayson has the 3rd most points per game in the 2nd quarter and Jaylen is 10th. Collectively, the C’s have the 2nd best offense in all of basketball with 30.2 points per game in this quarter. The setback would be that they start declining on the defensive side of the court. While they still rank high, they fall to seventh place with 28.1 points allowed. This is where Joe Mazzulla’s offense shines because they start to outshoot the opponents more and favor having more effort on offense. It leads to the squad having the second best offense in the first half — only trailing a historically good Sacramento Kings team.
The third quarter has always been Boston’s weakness. A reason why they got beaten in the NBA Finals by the Golden State Warriors was that they lost by an average margin of 7.17 points in that time period. With the exception of game five as a statistical outlier, they were losing by an average margin of 10.8 points which cost them the series.
This regular season has been the same story. From being second in offensive production, the team falls to ninth by only scoring 29.3 points per game. They are also ninth in points allowed which makes the fall-off in defense more evident. In their first two playoff games, the Celtics have not won a 3rd quarter. The Hawks outshot them 20-31 in Game one and, despite being tightly contested, Atlanta did the same in Game two by garnering 32 points to Boston’s 29. These were games where Trae Young was inefficient and could not score which is concerning given that other teams’ stars have the ability to shoot more consistently.
Joe Mazzulla has yet to patch up these woes given that he is still inheriting the same problems that Ime Udoka faced. Although the team is losing by a lesser margin during his stint, they could be getting more consistent in their balance on the court by avoiding drop coverages that hunt their unathletic bigs like Sam Hauser, who the Hawks continue to hunt as per Quin Snyder‘s offensive plan.
It does not help that the offensive decay becomes worse in the forth quarter. Their offense is the seventh worst in the league when closing games. Having only scored 26.6 points per game in the season and 22.3 points in their last three matchups, Boston’s offense continues to go downhill. A lot of it is attributed to fatigue which leads to poor shot selection due to the team exerting a lot of energy on both ends for all of the other quarters. Closing tightly-contested games has been a huge hindrance on why this team could not secure having the best record in the NBA despite their high net rating.
The Boston Celtics are favorites to win the NBA title this year. Despite how great a team with a Defensive Player of the Year, two First-Team All-NBA talents, a Sixth Man of the Year, and a Coach of the Year is, great teams have their Achilles’ heel — this team is no exception.
If they try to fix these woes in the coming months, banner 18 is coming for the winningest basketball franchise in the world.
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