WASHINGTON – You hear players, coaches and media pundits talk all the time about the NBA being a make-miss league.
But rarely does it smack you silly the way it has the Boston Celtics in their second-round series against the Washington.
Despite Boston holding a 2-1 series lead, the Celtics have been playing catchup most of this series.
Of course, the reason for them trailing for so long stems from a lack of shot-making.
But digging a little deeper into the shooting numbers tells a much richer story as to why the Celtics aren't making shots.
Washington’s defense has certainly played a role in that, but the biggest hurdle in Boston’s efforts to shoot better in this series is the Celtics themselves.
For the three games played thus far, NBA.com/stats show that 51.8 percent of Boston’s shot attempts have been uncontested, while the Wizards’ open look count stands at 44.6 percent.
And when you look closer at the uncontested shot numbers, the concern for Boston at this point is that they’re not doing a good job of making the most of what every team wants – great looks at the basket.
In the three games thus far, Boston has connected on 59-of-132 uncontested shot attempts, or 44.7 percent.
Meanwhile, the Wizards have made 61-of-124 uncontested shot attempts, or 49.2 percent.
It may not seem like a big deal, but here’s what those numbers have meant in this series.
In Game 1, Boston’s defense was really strong in limiting the percentage of uncontested shots Washington took to just 36.8 percent (32-for-87) which was a key to the Celtics getting a 123-111 win. And it was their best game to date in this series when it comes to shooting uncontested shots (29-for-53, 54.7 percent).
For Game 2, it was really about Boston making a ton of tough shots against a Wizards defense that was actually better defensively than they were in Game 1.
Boston shot 54.2 percent (26-for-48) on contested shots in Game 2, a key to their 129-119 comeback win. The Wizards were decent on open looks (28-for-56, or 50 percent) but were clearly bothered when Boston’s defense got in their space to limit the Wizards to just 41.9 percent (18-for-43) on contested shots.
Which brings us to Game 3 when the Wizards emerged with an emphatic 116-89 victory to cut Boston’s series lead (2-1) in half.
We have seen the Celtics throughout this playoff run struggle with making open shots, but nothing quite like what we saw on Thursday.
The change in venue definitely hurt the Celtics who made just 28.2 percent (11-for-39) of their uncontested shots in Game 3, their worst showing in this series.
What really killed them from an offensive standpoint was their inability to connect on contested shots which had been so clutch for them in the first two games at the TD Garden.
In the Game 3 loss, Boston made just 42.1 percent (16-of-38) of their contested shots which was their lowest percentage thus far in this series.
And at the opposite end of the contested shot spectrum in Game 3 was the Wizards who made 51.8 percent (29-for-56) which was their best showing to date.
When it comes to the Celtics and shooting, the immediate thought revolves around the 3-point shot.
But in Game 3, Boston’s inability to make mid-range baskets was a factor in their scoring troubles as well.
In Games 1 and 2, 13.0 and 10.9 percent, respectively, of Boston’s point total came from mid-range shots.
But in Game 3, only 6.7 percent of Boston’s offense was generated by the mid-range game. Certainly, a big part of that was Washington’s defense on Isaiah Thomas who limited him to just 3-for-8 shooting.
Getting Thomas more shots, particularly mid-range shots, will be a big plus for Boston tonight.
The bottom line to all this is simple: Boston will get more than its share of uncontested looks tonight.
While it’s great that they have been a relatively good-shooting team when their shots are contested, the Celtics will continue to make this series so much tougher to win if they don’t start knocking down the open looks they’re getting, at a greater rate.