I'm a big fan of the 20-point first quarter. In my opinion, one of the Celtics' goals this season should be to hold every opponent to 20 points or less in the opening frame. They maintain that they are in fact a defensive team and despite the many offensively efficient teams in the NBA, I believe this group is capable of such a feat. But in order to accomplish this, the starting unit of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins will have to find a way to get off to better starts.
The statistics support my claim: The Celtics are 5-0 this season when holding opponents to 20 points or less in the first quarter, but are just 4-4 when the opposition scores more than 20 points in the first 12 minutes. Consistency is the key in this case, but the Celtics have only managed to be consistent when it comes to being inconsistent defensively in the opening stanza of games lately.
The Magic scored 29 points in the first quarter on Friday. The Warriors put up 23 in the first 12 minutes on Wednesday. The Pacers managed 26 points in the first quarter last Saturday, but what was worse was that they reached the 20-point mark with 5:57 still to play in the frame. I distinctly remember shuddering when this happened. The Hawks jumped on this scoring bandwagon and put up 24 points on the Celtics in the opening period last Friday.
By continually allowing teams to score at will as soon as the ball is tossed up at halfcourt, the Celtics are digging themselves unnecessary holes, which in turn is forcing them to make up unnecessary ground later in the game. The specifics of this ordeal are actually quite simple: Instead of asserting themselves and being the aggressors/intimidators/initiators, the Celtics have been defined by first quarter complacency. Their opponents are now routinely walking all over them in the opening frame of games. Maybe they feel the sheer thought of them being the Boston Celtics is enough to scoot by a team like the Pacers or the Timberwolves or the Warriors.
Well, the Celtics are in dire need of a wake up call, because guess what? None of the teams the Celtics have played this season have appeared intimidated. And the longer this first quarter nonsense continues, the more likely the sub par opponents will continue to give us fits. The C's need to flex the defensive muscle in the first five minutes, knock their opponent on the chin and pin them down from there. And that's just against the 'okay' teams.
Sure, opponents can take the floor with the Celtics thinking they can compete, but by the time the game hits the seven or six minute mark of the first quarter, the opposing players need to be thinking, 'Boy, were we wrong.' The self-doubt needs to be seeping through opposing players' heads and into their games. The Celtics are perfectly capable of this, but until it happens, they will continue to struggle. The first quarter can no longer serve as the Celtics' personal warm up before they realize they have a game to play.