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Will Boston Celtics' Scoring Problems Haunt Them in Playoffs?

Mar 10, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett (5) handles the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4) during the first half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

Scoring has been an issue all season for the jump-shot-dependent Boston Celtics, and Sunday's game against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder was no different.

As the jumpers stopped falling, Boston managed a grand total of 10 made baskets after halftime in a 91-79 loss to OKC. The Thunder didn't exactly light up the scoreboard themselves, putting up their third-lowest total of their season, but it was enough to hold off the offensively anemic C's.

Boston played good defense and even out-rebounded the more athletic Thunder, but because they couldn't put the ball in the hole, Kevin Garnett and Co. suffered a disappointing road loss.

So the long-term question for the Celtics is this: Can they cobble together enough defense, rebounding and veteran guile to keep their scoring problems from causing an early postseason exit?

Well, it'll help to first examine exactly how significant Boston's point-producing problem really is. For that, we'll need to consult the numbers. Fair warning: This won't be pretty.

On the year, the Celtics rank No. 21 in offensive efficiency, with a rating of 100.5 points per 100 possessions. That figure is the second-worst of any team currently in playoff position; only the Chicago Bulls have an inferior number among likely postseason entrants.

The biggest reason for the Celtics' low-scoring output is the team's style of play. On offense, Boston shoots the third-most jumpers from 10-15 feet and the fourth-most from 16-23. In other words, the Celtics live and die by hoisting up an inordinate number of inherently inefficient shots. For what it's worth, though, the Celtics are unusually good at making the most of their bad looks.

Only the Miami Heat shoot better than the Celtics' 43.1 percent from 16-23 feet.

Still, the types of shots Boston favors have effects beyond being a generally inefficient way to accumulate points. For one thing, it means very few Celtic players are ever near the basket to pull down offensive rebounds. Obviously, that compounds the problem of Boston's low-percentage approach by limiting possessions to a single shot most of the time.

On the year, Boston is ranked 29th in offensive rebound rate.

So, in short, the Celtics have a pretty significant problem scoring the ball, and their overall style doesn't figure to allow that to change anytime soon.

What's strange, though, is that they were even worse a season ago. And considering that the Celtics found a way to get themselves to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011-12 when they ranked 24th in offensive efficiency, it's pretty hard to argue that their regular-season scoring troubles will doom them in the postseason.

However, there's a good case to be made that the Celtics are a different team this year, and probably a worse one. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen won't be around to help with the scoring load in the playoffs, and Garnett and Paul Pierce are a year older.

But postseason basketball isn't really about outscoring the competition. For proof of that, note Boston's offensive playoff statistics from last year: Its 97.6 points per 100 possessions was even lower than its regular-season figure of  98.9.

Obviously, the argument over whether or not Boston's scoring problems will haunt them in the playoffs can go back and forth. For every logical point showing that the Celtics' offense is terrible, there's an example showing why that doesn't seem to matter.

The Celtics are a unique case, built on toughness and smarts. So even though the numbers clearly show that Boston's scoring is a problem, there's just too much evidence from the past that shows they'll find a way to overcome their biggest weakness.

 

*Shot location info via HoopData.com.

**All other stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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