Beyond the numbers: Celtics fail to capitalize on open shots vs. Wizards

Beyond the numbers: Celtics fail to capitalize on open shots vs. Wizards

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.

NBCSB Breakfast pod: How Jayson Tatum compares to Paul Pierce

NBC Sports Illustration

NBCSB Breakfast pod: How Jayson Tatum compares to Paul Pierce

1:25 - With half of the Celtics roster on the shelf, we’ve been able to see just how great a scorer Jayson Tatum can be. A. Sherrod Blakely, Mike Girardi and Trenni Kusnierek discuss how Tatum compares to Celtics legend, Paul Pierce.

5:35 - The NFL Competition Committee is giving it their best shot at modifying the ‘catch rule’ and Tom Curran, Kyle Draper and Hardy try to wrap their heads around the proposed changes.

11:02 - The Bruins clinched a playoff berth despite losing to the St. Louis Blues in overtime. Joe Haggerty joins Tom Giles to break down the game, which included another goal by Ryan Donato and a questionable call on a high hit on David Krejci.

Report: Kyrie Irving to undergo knee exam Thursday


Report: Kyrie Irving to undergo knee exam Thursday

The second opinion on Kyrie Irving’s sore left knee will be done on Thursday, according to the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett.

Irving, who has missed the last four games, is expected to decide between having a surgical procedure performed to help alleviate some of the soreness, or continue to manage it with rest.


During the 2015 NBA Finals, Irving suffered a fractured left kneecap injury which was the beginning of Irving’s left knee issues.

While Irving has had soreness of some form during various stretches of play this season, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has seen him making progress recently.

“That knee is still sore,” Stevens said. “He’s worked really hard to manage it throughout the entire season. He’s had some pretty good days recently. I’m encouraged by the big picture.”

But Stevens has made it clear that he supports Irving getting a second opinion, adding that Irving’s absence is due to the knee being too sore for him to play at a level he’s accustomed to.

“He’s out because of knee soreness, not because we’re choosing to rest him,” Stevens said. “That’s the bottom line. Again, we want him to feel 110 percent. He wants to feel 110 percent. Obviously, we’re fortunate we created a cushion early on in the year with playoffs and everything else. This is not one of those situations where we’re choosing to rest someone; it’s because he has a sore knee.”