On Wednesday night, the Celtics handily beat the Heat 112-93 and Boston’s win was most evident at the charity stripe and behind the arc. They took 32 free throws (fifteen more than Miami) and that ended up ultimately being the difference in the game. However, it was the Celtics’ 41 three-point attempts that really jump off the box score.
The Heat are one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams in the NBA. Before the game, Stevens talked about how deadly Miami is with shooters like Duncan Robinson (43.5% on 6.6 3FGA’s per game) and Kendrick Nunn (34.9% on 6 3FGA’s per game) on the floor. As a team, they’re third in the league in 3FG% at 38.8%.
The Celtics are neither high volume nor high percentage shooters comparatively speaking. They’re 11th in attempts at 35.1 3FGA’s per game and 21st in 3FG% at 34.8%. Jayson Tatum is shooting the worst percentage of his career (34.8%), Marcus Smart has cooled off as the regular season has progressed, and Gordon Hayward’s marksmanship has been missing since breaking his hand.
However, there is a direct corollary between how many threes they take and make and winning. Monday night’s output of 41 three-pointers ties for second most in the regular season. Against the Clippers in Los Angeles, they chucked up forty-five in an overtime loss. Anytime they’ve been limited to 28 or fewer, they’ve lost (at Brooklyn, at Denver, and at Philadelphia). Those games were arguably against tough teams in tough road environments, but it’s not surprising that this young, wing-oriented team has relied so heavily on the outside shot.
They’re not as analytically driven as the Rockets (46.0 3FGA’s per game) or have a spinning dynamo of a superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo to power their offense (40.0 3FGA’s per game), but Boston does have key rotation players that have the green light to let it fly. Four starters average over five attempts a game; a healthy Hayward got up 3.8 threes a game. They’re not exactly living and dying behind the arc, but they’re averaging the most 3’s in the Brad Stevens era.
The concern is variance. They’ve won a handful of games shooting poorly against teams currently slotted for the lottery and consistently lost on the road against contenders when it wouldn’t matter if the rims were regulation or the broad side of a barn. There’s always going to be nights when you’re hot or when you just don’t have it. They shot around 40% hosting teams like the Heat, Bucks, and Mavericks and that’s encouraging when you’re at TD Garden. But if this team is going to make noise in the playoffs, they’ll have to catch some nets on fire on the road. They were a combined 26-of-98 in Los Angeles, Denver, and Philadelphia.
After the game, Brad Stevens talked about how the Heat started double-teaming and blitzing Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum and how they had to find the “next right guy” to take the shot. In the second half, that was Jaylen Brown who hit 4-of-6 from deep to bury Miami. However, the Celtics haven’t been that good for most of the year.
Twenty games into the season, the Celtics are the fifth worst catch-and-shoot team in the NBA at 33.4% on 20.4 3FGA’s. Last year, they were 7th at 37.9% on 25.5 3FGA’s. Different team with different players, but the optimist in me thinks that Boston will at least finish in the middle of the pack. Water will find its level. We’ve already started seeing some fringe improvement with some of the younger players.
After only hitting a single three-pointer in the first ten games of the season, Semi Ojeleye has hit 9-of-22 and grown confidence as his playing time has become more consistent. Brad Wanamaker is 9-for-20 in his last eight games. Gordon Hayward sounds like he’ll be returning sooner rather than later. Injuries that have lead to inconsistent lineups have certainly plagued this team and maybe that’s lead to some bad bounces, too. However, if the Celtics start nearing some career averages, we could see the kind of bump that Boston enjoyed in-game against the Heat; after starting 2-for-7 in the first quarter, the Celtics hit 9 of 22 in the second half.