2022 Playoffs: East Final | Heat (1) vs. Celtics (2)

Why 1st and 3rd quarters have mattered in 2022 NBA Playoffs

Performance in the 1st and 3rd quarters can make or break a team's hopes in the 2022 postseason.

Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and others lead Boston's 2nd-half stride to take down Miami in Game 5.

In Wednesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics headed to the locker room for halftime trailing the Miami Heat by five points after scoring just 37 points. It was Boston’s lowest scoring first half not just of this year’s playoffs but going all the way back to the first round of the 2018 postseason.

After Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined to score just 10 points on 3-for-16 shooting in the first half, they scored 15 of Boston’s 32 points in the third quarter, as the Celtics doubled up the Heat’s 16 points and took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. Boston kept Miami at bay the rest of the way to earn a 93-80 win and a 3-2 series lead. In doing so, the Celtics are one win from their first NBA Finals trip since 2010.

This was the latest example of the importance of the third quarter, not just in the conference finals, but throughout the entire 2022 postseason. Let’s break down the numbers.

Closer look: 3rd quarter scoring

Conference finals

  • Team that wins 3rd quarter wins the game: 6
  • Team that loses 3rd quarter wins the game: 0
  • Teams tied the 3rd quarter: 3 (Games 2, 3, 4 of East Finals)

2022 NBA Playoffs overall

  • Team that wins 3rd quarter wins the game: 48
  • Team that loses 3rd quarter wins the game: 27
  • Teams tied the 3rd quarter: 3 (Games 2, 3, 4 of East Finals)

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are 2 of the NBA’s top 3rd-quarter scorers in the 2022 conference finals.

Game 5 of the East finals was the first time that the Celtics had won the third quarter over Miami. Through the first two rounds of play, the Heat dominated third quarters — outscoring their opponents by a playoff-best 68 points over their first 11 games. They kept that trend going in Game 1, crushing the Celtics by 25 points in the third quarter and going on to win the first game of the series. They have not won a third quarter since. The teams tied in Games 2, 3 and 4 and the Celtics turned the tables on the Heat in Game 5.

In the West, the third-quarter winner has correlated to the game winner in each of the first four games. Golden State outscored Dallas in the third quarter by 10 points in Game 1, 12 points in Game 2 and nine points in Game 3 as they built a 3-0 series lead. With their season on the line, the Mavericks responded not only with their best game overall, but their best third quarter. They outscored the Warriors by 14 points to build a 29-point lead that was insurmountable in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

When we look at which players are dominating the third quarters in the conference finals, the top two scorers represent teams that are trailing in each series — Jimmy Butler (8.8 ppg on 52.4% shooting) for Miami and Spencer Dinwiddie (7.0 ppg on 69.2% shooting) for Dallas. Keep in mind that Butler missed the second half of Game 3 — a game the Heat would win without him — due to right knee inflammation. While he’s played in both Games 4 and 5, Butler has struggled, scoring just 19 points on 21.9% shooting over the past two games.

Top 3rd quarter scorers, conference finals

1 Jimmy Butler MIA 10.6 8.8 52.4 1.5
2 Spencer Dinwiddie DAL 5.4 7.0 69.2 -1.3
3 Klay Thompson GSW 9.0 6.5 60.0 4.0
4 Marcus Smart BOS 9.6 6.3 58.3 2.7
5 Stephen Curry GSW 11.7 6.3 31.8 4.3
6 Jayson Tatum BOS 11.5 5.8 37.5 -0.6
7 Jaylen Brown BOS 10.1 5.4 37.5 -2.2
8 Al Horford BOS 10.6 4.5 62.5 0.5
8 Andrew Wiggins GSW 10.0 4.5 46.7 4.5
8 Kevon Looney GSW 8.3 4.5 77.8 2.8
8 Luka Doncic DAL 10.7 4.5 40.0 -4.3

While many games have turned — or been put out of reach — in the third quarter throughout the postseason (and, specifically, during the conference finals), there is also a strong connection to winning by getting off to a fast start in the first quarter rather than waiting until after the half.

Closer look: 1st quarter scoring 

Conference finals

  • Team that wins 1st quarter wins the game: 6
  • Team that loses 1st quarter wins the game: 3
  • Teams tied the 1st quarter: 0

2022 NBA Playoffs overall

  • Team that wins 1st quarter wins the game: 52
  • Team that loses 1st quarter wins the game: 23
  • Teams tied the 1st quarter: 3

Why have there been so many blowouts in the 2022 conference finals?

Through the first nine games of the conference finals — five in the East and four in the West — the team that won the first 12 minutes went on to win the game 66.7% of the time (6 of 9). The three times where a team lost the first quarter, but went on to win the game, each time the winning team dominated the third quarter.

  • Game 1 East finals: Miami loses 1st quarter by 3 points, wins 3rd quarter by 25 points, wins game by 11 points
  • Game 2 West finals: Golden State loses 1st quarter by 7 points, wins 3rd quarter by 12 points, wins game by 9 points
  • Game 5 East finals: Boston loses 1st quarter by 2 points, wins 3rd quarter by 16 points, wins game by 13 points

In those three games combined, the winning teams lost the first quarters by 12 total points, but won the third quarters by 53 total points. Additionally, they won the games by 33 total points.

The rule of ‘win the first quarter and win the game’ has been consistent throughout the playoffs. Over the 69 games played in the first round and conference semifinals, the winning team won the first quarter 46 times, lost the first quarter 20 times and was tied after the first quarter three times. Those 46 wins in 69 games equates to a 66.7% win percentage — the exact same number as the conference finals thus far.

As the Warriors make their second attempt at closing out the Mavericks — this time with home-court advantage at Chase Center — will either (or both) of these trends play out once again? So far, the third quarter has been the one to watch in this series. But watch out for Luka Doncic in the first as he leads all scorers at 10.8 points per game in the first 12 minutes in the conference finals.

Top 1st quarter scorers, conference finals

1 Luka Doncic DAL 12.0 10.8 46.7 -0.5
2 Stephen Curry GSW 12.0 8.3 44.0 0.5
3 Andrew Wiggins GSW 11.4 7.0 52.2 1.8
4 Jaylen Brown BOS 10.0 5.6 37.5 0.2
5 Jayson Tatum BOS 9.4 5.2 45.0 1.0
6 Jimmy Butler MIA 11.6 5.0 36.7 -1.6
7 Bam Adebayo MIA 8.1 4.6 64.7 0.0
8 Derrick White BOS 9.4 4.3 46.7 3.0
9 Jalen Brunson DAL 6.8 4.0 40.0 0.5
9 Robert Williams III BOS 7.4 4.0 87.5 4.0
9 Tyler Herro MIA 5.0 4.0 55.6 -1.3