When it comes to late-game production, tonight's battle between two of the NBA's best in that regard -- Boston and Toronto --is about as good a matchup as you’ll find.
Both teams rank among the best in the NBA, and are separated by just one game record-wise. And one of the keys to both team’s success is their ability to produce in the fourth quarter.
In fact, the Celtics and Raptors are the top two teams in the NBA when it comes to scoring in the fourth quarter.
Boston averages a league-best 29.4 points per game in the fourth, while Toronto is right on its heels with a 28.4 points per game average in the fourth.
And within those numbers you’ll find Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging 9.5 fourth-quarter points per game . . . which trails only Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (9.7).
“He’s the best player in the NBA in the fourth quarter,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said of Thomas. “He’s proven that. Your high beams better be on when you’re going into the fourth against Thomas. He’s an example of what this league should be about. Kid drafted, what 60th? Back against the wall his whole career; now look at him. He’s one of the best players in this league, a lot like Kyle [Lowry]. Those two guys should be what our league is about. It’s not about where you’re drafted, it’s where you are now, where you propelled yourself to be. They have propelled themselves to be in the elite level of our league. Because of hard work and not looking at . . . almost living with a chip on their shoulder. That’s what has made them what they are.”
Lowry acknowledges he likes what he sees when watching Thomas play.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Lowry who ranks third in the NBA with 7.8 fourth-quarter points. “I’m a big fan of his. Watching him now a couple years, he’s growing into the confident player that he is. I think he’s averaging 9.3 in the fourth quarter? (It’s actually 9.5.) That’s big stuff. I would say the other word (besides stuff) but you have to write this. He’s just becoming such a vital player to his team. He’s been a vital player overall in what they do. You gotta find a way to stop him and slow him down.”
Lowry has left many teams feeling that way about him, especially the Celtics. In their last matchup, Lowry finished with a then-season high of 34 points, which included five of the Raptors’ last six points as they escaped with a 101-94 win.
While there’s no doubt that Thomas and Lowry lead the way when it comes to fourth-quarter play, the contributions they get from their teammates are just as vital.
Both teams are making 9.8 field goals in the fourth, which is more than any other team. And they’re doing so at a fairly high rate, with the Celtics making 47 percent of its fourth quarter shots compared to 47.6 for Toronto. Boston ranks fourth in the league in that category while the Raptors are No. 2 at 47.6.
Both teams rank high in other categories as well when you start examining their play in the fourth quarter.
As important as it may be to statistically be among the best in various categories, the bottom line to all this is winning games. And that's something both teams have done a good bit of this season, in part because of how well they were able to close out games in the fourth quarter.