If we take a look at the elite teams in the East (tomorrow I’ll do the same with the West), Miami, Indiana, and Boston, do any of these teams play better in the first half versus the second half? How well do these three teams play in overtime?
First, let’s look at the offensive, defensive, and net ratings for each team over the course of a game.
Both Indiana and Miami improve offensively over the course of the game, however, Boston actually scores less per 100 possessions as the game goes on. This is not entirely surprising as Boston has an older team than Indiana and Miami. What is worrying is the lack of offensive efficiency in overtime, because when it really matters, Boston doesn’t seem to be able to get it done.
The highlight here is how relatively bad Miami’s defense is in the first half of a game, and how much better it becomes over the second half (are the Heat really good at halftime adjustments, or do they just play bad defense during the beginning of games?) — the Heat’s defense is ridiculously stingy in overtime (though the overtime sample size is small). Boston’s defense actually gets worse over the course of the game (not surprising since the Celtics are a veteran-laden squad), but the Celtics can really turn on the defense in overtime. While Indiana has a very good defense throughout the course of a game, Indiana does not have the vast improvements in defense come overtime that we see with Miami and Boston. Partly, this is probably because they play at such a high level throughout the course of the game, but it does seem odd that they can’t throw their defense into another gear like the Heat and Celtics can.
While all the teams start with roughly the same net rating, the Heat’s and Pacers’ net ratings steadily increase over the course of the game, though the Heat become incredibly effective during overtime, with a net rating of over 40 points per 100 possessions. Boston, on the other hand, gets worse over the course of the game — though they do pick it up during overtime.
Indiana has a terrific rebounding percentage, and is in another league when it comes to rebounding during regulation, compared to Miami and Boston. However, the Heat (who are a relatively bad rebounding team) somehow increase their rebounding percentage by more than 10 percentage points in overtime. This is a ridiculously high rate (even higher than Indiana’s) which begs the question: why can’t they do this during regulation? Boston is just terrible on the boards; their opponents get more rebounds throughout the game.
Again, Boston struggles over the course of a game, Indiana decreases slightly over the course of a game, and Miami improves slightly over the course of the game. What separates the teams is that during moments where offense is crucial (such as overtime) Boston does not shoot as well as Indiana or Miami. This is probably because giving the ball to LeBron or Paul George is a higher efficiency option than say, giving the ball to Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. Now, this is only speculation (I haven’t looked at any numbers), but my guess is that Pierce and Garnett are old enough so that they cannot get as much explosion/separation for a clean look like they did as little as two or three years ago. And this is really Boston’s main weakness during a playoff series — the age factor. In pretty much every facet of the game, the Celtics get worse as the game goes on, probably due to their reliance on veteran players who are not as athletic as they once used to be. I think this is going to be a serious problem for the Celtics come playoff time, unless those veteran players can reach back and get some extra helping of “Michael’s Secret Stuff”. This is why I think Indiana will be the Heat’s biggest challenge in the East.