Posted Mar 25 2010 11:24AM
When the Orlando Magic went up by 13 in the first quarter of their game with the Hawks on Wednesday, it shouldn't have come as a big surprise. Over the course of the season, the opening period has been the Magic's best quarter, and a relatively weak one for the Hawks.
When Atlanta outscored Orlando by 12 over the next 24 minutes, it shouldn't have come as a big surprise either, because the second and third quarters have been the Hawks' best all season. Their worst quarter? The fourth, and somewhat predictably, they lost an 11-point lead in the final minutes before Josh Smith flew to the rescue.
The Hawks and Magic are two of the best teams in the NBA, but they win games in different ways, and at different times.
|Celtics efficiency, by quarter, 2009-10|
|Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions|
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions
A look at quarter-by-quarter numbers makes it clear that most NBA teams, even the good ones, are pretty inconsistent over the course of a game. For example, check out the Boston Celtics, the most inconsistent team in the league from quarter to quarter.
The Celtics' defense is stifling in the first half and they're the best second-quarter team in the league. In fact, their +14.2 mark in the second quarter is better than any differential for any team in any quarter. But they can't maintain nearly that level after they come back out of the locker room.
In fact, only two teams, the Nets and Sixers, have more losses than the Celtics do when leading at halftime. Boston has led 52 of their 71 games at the half, but 16 of their 25 losses have come in that situation.
Is it an age thing? Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace all shoot worse in the second half than they do in the first. Wallace's dropoff, from 47.8 percent in the first half to 33 percent in the second half, is by far the largest of any player in the league who has attempted at least 200 shots in each half this season. Yet, for some reason, he's attempted more shots in the second half (294) than he has in the first (278). Pierce suffers the next worst dropoff of the four Celtics vets, from 49.9 percent to 44.2 percent.
The Lakers are another team that isn't very consistent from quarter to quarter. L.A. is an excellent first-quarter team (+10.9) and the best third-quarter team in the league (+12.5), but the Lakers are mediocre in the second (+0.8) and fourth (+0.1) periods.
It's on offense where the Lakers fall off most in the second and fourth, and it's not too difficult to figure out why. Kobe Bryant averages 11.2 minutes in the first quarter, 8.5 in the second, 11.2 in the third, and just 7.5 in the fourth. Pau Gasol also plays more in the first and third quarters. Obviously, garbage time will always skew fourth-quarter numbers a bit.
The three most consistent teams in the league from quarter to quarter are the Phoenix Suns, the Utah Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks, interesting because they play three different styles. The Suns are the best offensive team in the league, but poor defensively, the Bucks win with defense and have trouble scoring, and the Jazz are one of only four teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends. So consistency from quarter to quarter may be more about substitution patterns and team balance than style of play.
• The most potent offense in any quarter is that of the Cavs in the first. Cleveland scores an incredible 117.2 points per 100 possessions in the opening 12 minutes. That's more than four points better than the next best offense in any quarter: Phoenix in the second at 112.8.
• The best defense in any quarter is Oklahoma City in the third. The Thunder allow just 95.2 points per 100 possessions in the third, a fact which should be put on Scott Brooks' Coach of the Year application. Last season's Coach of Year has the second best quarterly defense; Mike Brown's Cavs allow 95.3 points per 100 possessions in the third.
• Overall, the league is most efficient (scoring 105.5 points per 100 possessions) in the second quarter. Offenses actually shoot better and turn the ball over less in the first quarter, but they rebound better and get to the line more often in the second.
• The league-wide pace slows down over the course of the game. The league averages 24.4 possessions per team in the first quarter, 24.1 in the second, 23.6 in the third, and 23.1 in the fourth. Fast break points go down at a similar rate.
• Both free-throw attempts and 3-point attempts go up as the game goes on. In the first quarter, the league shoots just 20.2 free throws per 100 possessions, and 18.7 percent of field-goal attempts are from 3-point range. In the fourth, the league attempts 31 free throws per 100 possessions, and 25.5 percent of field-goal attempts are from beyond the arc. Conversely, both mid-range points and paint points go down as the game goes on.
• However, shooting from 3-point range, from 2-point range and from the line gets worse as the game goes on. So does assist rate.
• The Nets are by far the worst team in the standings. But they're only the worst team in the first quarter. The Timberwolves are the worst team in both the second and third quarters, and the Clippers are the worst in the fourth. The Jazz are the best fourth-quarter team in the league, outscoring their opponents by 7.7 points per 100 possessions in the final 12 minutes.
• The Raptors' defense is terrible, allowing 60-plus first-half points 18 times this season, but the Toronto D is especially atrocious in the third quarter, when it allows 114 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors are the worst defensive team in the first quarter (110.7), the Grizzlies are the worst in the second (111.8), and the Sixers are the worst in the fourth (110.2).
• It's often brought up that LeBron James is the leading fourth-quarter scorer in the league, averaging 7.8 points in the final 12 minutes, followed by Dirk Nowitzki (6.9), Carmelo Anthony (6.7) and Kobe Bryant (6.6). James actually scores more points (8.9) in the first period, but he isn't the leading first-quarter scorer in the league. That's Kevin Durant, who averages 9.6 points in the opening 12 minutes. Monta Ellis is the league's leading scorer in the second quarter (6.6), and Anthony is tops in the third (8.3).
All stats are through Wednesday, March 24.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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