Playoff C’s again stumble over the three-point “Stripe”
I’m prompted to mention this odd statistical nuance by the numbers our Celtics produced during the 2019 post-season, particularly their poor performance against the Bucks. For instance, the C’s Game 5 elimination in Milwaukee marked only the third time in 91 regular-season and playoff games in which they had more misses at the foul line than makes from the Arc (-1 “stripe”).
In an ironic quirk, Boston’s lone negative Striping score during the 2018 playoffs came in the very same Game of the very same Round – their close-out victory over Philadelphia. A team suffered negative Striping only 14 times in 82 playoff games a year ago, another 14 through three rounds and 76 games this season.
While it was Boston’s three-point shooting that abandoned them in their 2018 playoff finale, some “foul” foul shooting (26 – 34) aided and abetted the close-out this time around.
Against Indiana in Round One, the C’s 3PAr was .369 – essentially the same usage rate (.364) they’d posted during the second half of the season … but they launched 36 triples per game in the Milwaukee series compared to 29.5 per vs the Pacers as their FG% fell from .444 (.398 on treys) to that unimpressive .410 (.307 on treys).
Now it should be noted that coach Mike Budenholzer’s Bucks were simultaneously making only 198 FG’s while attempting 207 3FG’s … I said “Hmmm!” right after double-checking my addition.
During the 2018-19 regular season, the average NBA team converted 3,369 total FG’s and attempted 2,625 3FG’s – that’s +9.1 “good hoops” compared to three-point tries per game. But that differential has been dropping steadily in recent times: to 10.6 (’17-18), to 12.0 (’16-17), from 14.2 (’15-16). As recently as 2010-11, “Team Average” posted over 19 more successful FG’s than attempted treys every game.
Collectively, the NBA shot .461 from the field this season, with a 3PAr at an all-time high of .359 – usage of the three-ball has increased 26 percent since 2015-16’s then record rate of .285. (Accuracy likewise increased – less precipitously, mind you – over that span from .453.)
During these playoffs, round-by-round, FG% has been dipping while 3PAr has risen:
Round 1 – FG% .446; 3PAr .358
Round 2 – FG% .437; 3PAr .390
Round 3 – FG% .435; 3PAr .416
And here’s a final ironic twist to this most disappointing Celtic season.
In Mike Budenholzer’s rookie season as an NBA head coach (2013-14), the long-time San Antonio assistant led his eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks into a first-round playoff series against a stout Indiana squad, extending the top seed to seven games before falling. For the series, Coach Bud’s troops, who’d ranked second in the league in 3PAr, scrapped their way to 212 successful FG’s while attempting 230 three-pointers. (A Budenholzer-coached team has finished lower than No. 6 in 3PAr only once.)
From this angle, it appears that Bud and his Bucks got Brad’s boys dancing to their beat.
Abacus Revelation for the Road
NBA teams continue to break new barriers when it comes to the use of the three-point shot.
In Game 3 of their opening round series, both Houston and Utah took more three-point shots than two-point shots … therefore, each posted a 3PAr above .500. The only other “Double .500” game had occurred a month prior in a Bucks’ home victory over the Lakers.
And three teams – all during regular-season play – have surpassed .600 in 3PAr … Houston (TWENTY times), Dallas and Brooklyn. (16 of these 22 games were played this season.)
Should a basketball purist be concerned that the Rockets are 16 – 4 in those 20 games?
And, as one of those old-school purists, should I feel uneasy because that 60% usage barrier was reached – by the Rockets (61 treys on 94 shots), of course – on, of all days, my 60th birthday?