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John Schuhmann

Deron Williams
Utah's Deron Williams leads the league's best fourth-quarter team
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Numbers Game: Heating up, cooling off as game goes on


Posted Dec 30 2010 11:08AM

Seeing the 22-10 Utah Jazz trail the 10-23 Los Angeles Clippers by as many as 12 points in the first quarter on Wednesday night may have been a bit jarring. But not if you've been paying attention to the Jazz this season.

The Jazz have the fifth-best record in the league, but only one team has been worse in the first quarter this season. The Jazz are getting outscored by 12.2 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter. That's downright awful, the equivalent of a team that's 5-27, not 22-10.

But the Jazz get better as the game goes on, more than making up for their first-quarter woes. And clearly, Jerry Sloan gives some great halftime speeches. The Jazz have outscored their opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter and by 14.1 in the fourth.

Practice makes perfect
Jazz efficiency by quarter
Quarter Off. Eff. Rank Def. Eff. Rank Diff. Rank
First 95.5 28 107.7 25 -12.2 29
Second 101.3 21 103.0 14 -1.6 18
Third 110.4 3 101.5 11 8.9 3
Fourth 116.4 2 102.3 10 14.1 1
Off. Eff. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Yes, that five-game winning streak in early November, in which the Jazz came back from a double-digit deficit in each game, was incredible. It was also typical.

The Jazz have been the most inconsistent team in the league from quarter to quarter. The Utah offense is a thing of beauty when it's running smoothly, but it doesn't get there until after halftime. Overall, the Jazz rank 11th in the league offensively, but they're a pretty awful on that end in the first half.

All over the map

The Indiana Pacers are almost as inconsistent as the Jazz, but much more baffling.

With a ridiculously efficient offense, Indiana is the league's best team in the second quarter. But they're the third-worst in the first quarter and the worst in the fourth. And while Utah's inconsistency comes mostly from their offense, the Pacers are all over the map on both sides of the ball.

... or not
Pacers efficiency by quarter
Quarter Off. Eff. Rank Def. Eff. Rank Diff. Rank
First 90.6 30 100.9 9 -10.2 28
Second 113.7 2 100.9 11 12.8 1
Third 96.5 25 94.5 1 2.0 14
Fourth 96.5 28 107.6 21 -11.1 30
Off. Eff. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Eff. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

There's no clear explanation for how Indiana goes from the worst offense in the league in the first quarter to the second-best in the second. Overall, their starting lineup of Darren Collison, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts and Roy Hibbert is pretty solid offensively. They just can't score in the first 12 minutes of the game.

Despite how terrible they've been in the first and fourth quarters, the Pacers sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The lesson? Inconsistency is good when you're bad.

Better consistently good than consistently bad

On the other end of the consistency spectrum, you have both good and bad teams. The most consistent team from quarter to quarter is the 8-25 Minnesota Timberwolves, who, at their best, get outscored by only 5.2 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter.

The Milwaukee Bucks get worse as the game goes on (+0.8, -3.3, -4.1, -5.2), but are relatively consistent to the rest of the league. After that, you have the Hornets, Clippers, and Mavs.

Best and worst by quarter

The best team in any quarter is the Miami Heat in the third, when they outscore their opponents by a ridiculous 18.9 points per 100 possessions. The Heat have won the third quarter by double digits as many times (nine) as they've lost it.

The worst team in any quarter is the Washington Wizards in the second, when they get outscored by 17.1 points per 100 possessions. The Wizards have won the second quarter just five times this season, and they've been outscored in the period by 10 or more points seven times.

The Phoenix Suns are like the Jazz in that their offense gets better as the game goes on. Overall, the Suns rank second offensively, but they're rather mediocre in the first quarter, scoring just 101.6 points per 100 possessions. And it's in the fourth period when they're at their sharpest, scoring 116.9. That's the most efficient any team is offensively in any quarter.

Of course, the Suns' real problems are the other end of the floor. They're decent defensively in the first quarter, allowing just 102.9 points per 100 possessions, but just awful afterward.

The best defense comes from the Boston Celtics in the first quarter, when they allow just 92.7 points per 100 possessions. The Celtics' D is stifling all game long, but it does get a little worse as the game goes on, allowing 100.6 points per 100 possessions in the fourth.

All numbers are through Wednesday, Dec. 29 and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.

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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