Max Lederman

Celtics can attribute recent success to contested 3-pointers

Celtics can attribute recent success to contested 3-pointers

In their last three games, the Celtics have looked a lot more like the 2018-19 team we expected to see before the season, with the C’s picking up solid wins on the road vs star-studded Western Conference teams (Pelicans & Timberwolves), and smashing the dregs of the East at home (Cleveland). 

So what’s different between the team of the last three games and the .500 squad from the first 20? Their scorching hot offense is certainly a factor, but another statistical indicator that deserves monitoring is the percentage of opponents' three-point field goals the Celtics are contesting. During the first 20 games of the season, the C’s contested 80% of opponents' threes, but in the last three games that number has jumped to 89%. For context, the Denver Nuggets lead the NBA with an 86% three-point contest rate. 

One of the main reasons for the higher contest rate is the additional minutes Marcus Smart has received since entering the starting lineup. The Celtics' cyborg ninja is averaging 7.0 contested threes per game as a starter (Draymond Green leads the NBA with an average of 5.6), helping prove he is, in fact, a defensive alpha. 

It’s hard to say what the actual impact of the higher three-point contest rate is, as the Celtics' last three opponents have actually shot better from beyond the arc than their first 20 had, although they’ve taken fewer three-pointers. I believe a higher three-point contest rate is indicative of a more locked-in defense. The Celtics always try on defense, but their focus on that end was inconsistent during the first 20 games. Hopefully, the last three games are a sign of what the rest of the 2018-19 season will look like for the Celtics.

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Cancel the apocalypse, the Celtics offense is fine

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USA Today Sports Photo

Cancel the apocalypse, the Celtics offense is fine

Let’s not overcomplicate things; the Celtics offense has been bad. The C’s are averaging the fewest points in the entire league (99.8 points per game) through four games, including a season-low 90 points in a loss to the Orlando freaking Magic at home on Monday night.

I understand the urge to question whether the pilots of the Celtics’ offense are drift compatible, but I implore you to step away from the breach. You can cancel the apocalypse, the Celtics are going to be fine.

After hours of analysis I’ve identified the reason the offense has struggled … they aren’t making shots. Boston’s starters are all shooting below their career averages, and thinking that will continue for an entire season is the same as thinking Earth is the only life-bearing planet in a universe of 100 billion stars. I can’t prove they’ll regress back to the mean, but I know they will.

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While the offense has looked ugly at times, the quality of shots isn’t that different from last season. The Celtics are averaging 30.3 “Open” and “Wide Open” three-point attempts combined per game this season (Open = defender 4-6 feet away, Wide Open = 6+ feet away). They averaged 26.6 such attempts a year ago, so they’re actually getting better looks. The difference is last season they shot 38.1% on those attempts, whereas this year they’ve hit just 31.4%.

Basketball hasn’t changed since last summer, the NBA is still a make/miss league, and the Celtics are still one of the best teams in the league. They just need to start making more open shots.

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One man's top 18 games in Celtics' pursuit of Banner 18

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File photos

One man's top 18 games in Celtics' pursuit of Banner 18

The Celtics schedule is out and, after crunching the numbers, I’ve whittled it down to the 18 most objectively important games on their quest for Banner 18. Click here for the gallery.