Complete breakdown of game-winning plays in Big 3 Era

Promoted FanPost

In response to the recent post about "Who should take the game-winning shots now that Ray is gone?", I decided that this would be a good time to update exactly how the Celtics performed in game-winning situations over the last 5 years. I first summed up the Celtics' performances in game-winning situations back in the 2011 season, and this is the money section for how I defined "game-winning situation" and what all I calculated:

But another of the more popular definitions of "clutch" is the childhood playground've got the ball, end of the game, chance to win do you do?

Every so often takes a look at what they call game-winning shots (they define it as 24 seconds left, down 1 - 2 points). Their last update was about 2 years ago, and among other interesting tidbits we saw that in Ray, Pierce and KG we had three players that had hit a lot of these shots between them, and that the league average on these kinds of shots is very low (29.8% at the time).

Well, in the wake of all of the attention that the Heat have been getting for failing in these situations, I thought to look more precisely at how the Celtics have done as a team since they came together in 2007. First, I wanted to look at just how often these "game winning"/close game situations actually come up, and how the Celtics do in these games. And I wanted to get into a bit more detail as many of the shots actually won games? How many were assisted? Who was getting the assists? Essentially, how does the team play as a unit in those situations. Also, I wanted to look beyond offense a bit and keep track of some clutch defensive plays as well. Finally, I chose to look at the last 30 seconds of games within 1 possession...slightly different from's definition, but as good as any.

So without further ado, here are the final numbers for the entire Big Three era that included Ray Allen in green:

  • The Celtics have played 487 games (394 regular season, 93 postseason) since Fall of 2007. Of those 487 games, 135 of them have been within one possession with under 30 seconds left in regulation (this includes all overtime games). Overall, the Celtics are 87 - 48 in super-close games for a 64.4% win percentage (67 - 39 regular season, 20 - 9 postseason).
  • Of the 87 "close" wins, someone hit a game-winning shot (or FTs) in the last 30 seconds of 24 of the games.
  • Of the Big 4, only Kevin Garnett has missed enough games/crunch times to be worth mentioning here (81 games out*, including 24 of the crunch times). It's worth noting, because the team plays differently late when Garnett is there as opposed to when he isn't. So, I'll chart the numbers for the games the Big 4 were in the clutch together, then a separate chart with Glen Davis replacing KG for the other times.

Here is the chart for when all four of Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo have been available. The Cs are 57 - 32 (64% win %) in close games in the regular season, and 16 - 6 (73% win %) in the postseason in these games.

FGM FGA FG% Ast-ed FTM FTA FT% 3s M 3s A G W Ast TOs Stl/blk
Garnett 10
18 21
85.7 0 1 7
Pierce 13
38 41
92.7 3
4 11
Allen 13 30
88.0 10
4 1
Rondo 2 12
22.2 1 6
60.0 0 2 0 5

And here is the chart for when KG has been out. The Cs are 10 - 7 (59%) in close games in the regular season, and 4 - 3 (57%) in the postseason in these games.

FGM FGA FG% Ast-ed FTM FTA FT% 3s M 3s A G W Ast TOs Stl/blk
Davis 2 3 66.7 2 2 2 100.0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Pierce 3 15 20.0 1 5 10 50.0 0 3 2 4 2 1
Allen 7 12 58.3 5 6 8 75.0 6 7 2 0 1 0
Rondo 3 9 33.3 0 2 2 100.0 0 0 0 5 0 0

Here are some of the things that jump out at me:

  • The Celtics as a team are excellent in these extremely close games. I don't know what the league average is, but a winning percentage in the 65% range has to be among the league leaders..
  • When all of the Big 4 were available the roles were pretty well defined:
  • The Celtics had 3 big-volume scorers at game-winning time: Pierce, Allen and Garnett all took a roughly similar number of shots and all 3 made those shots at well-above league average clip of 29%. All three also hit their super-clutch free throws extremely well, all over 85% from the line.
  • Ray (7 made) and KG (7 made) led the Celtics in game-winning shots, with Pierce next at 4 made shots.
  • Pierce by-far led the team in assists in this game-winning/game-sealing time with 11. Rondo was next with 5, while KG and Ray were almost always finishers.
  • KG led the team in game-winning defensive plays (blocks and steals). Pierce also made quite a few of those plays late on defense.
  • When KG was out
  • Rondo took a bigger role late. In those games he actually led the team in late assists and had almost as many field goal attempts as Allen and Pierce.
  • With Rondo doing more initiating, Ray's shooting percentages went way up and Pierce's went way down. Coincidence? Could be, as the sample size was still reasonably small. But worth noting.
  • Postseason: The team does well in close situations without KG, but with him they are outstanding. While they have won 58% of their super-tight games without KG, that win percentage goes up to 66% with KG. And in the postseason, their win percentage increases from 57% without KG up to 73% with him.

If you'll indulge me with one last point at the end of a long post, in response to the "who takes the last shot now?" question posed in the previous post, I'd say that the answer is still very clear with Ray gone. I would assume that Terry takes roughly the same proportion of shots late that Ray did, meaning that now Pierce, Terry and KG split them about evenly. Terry is more of a ball-handler than Ray was, which means that he and Pierce likely share more of the initiation duties late. Rondo will probably continue to see some opportunities late, but until his free throw percentage increases I think he remains the junior member of the "crunch time crew" offensively.

*The number of games out for Garnett above counts games that he had to leave early due to injury as missed games

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