Beyond The Numbers: Late-game production is key to C's, Raptors success

Beyond The Numbers: Late-game production is key to C's, Raptors success

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. 

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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. 

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights as the Boston Celtics are able to hold off the Miami Heat and get the win 112-108 at the TD Garden.

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

BOSTON -- Location, location, location.

The Boston Celtics are seemingly where they want to be following their 112-108 win Sunday night over Miami, a victory that put the Celtics (48-26, .649 winning percentage) in a virtual tie with defending NBA champ Cleveland (47-25, .652).

But position means very little without purposeful play, something the Celtics are gradually doing more of than not.

And because of that, they find themselves one strong finish to the season away from going into the playoffs with the top overall record in the East for the first time since 2008 -- the year they brought home Banner 17.

While few anticipate the Celtics will advance to the NBA Finals, they have at least positioned themselves to have a shot at making a good run during the postseason if they can secure home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The last time the top overall top seed in the East failed to make it past the first round was in 2012 when the Chicago Bulls were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, a series that was marred by injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah that created a much smoother pathway for the upstart Sixers to move on to the second round where they were defeated by Boston in seven games.

And while the players have tried to downplay the significance of landing the top seed in the East, there’s no question it’s something that they know all too well is within their reach.

Cleveland has a much tougher schedule to close out the season, one that includes a Monday night matchup at San Antonio against a Spurs team that’s fighting for the top spot out West.

The Celtics players have talked often about wanting to be in the best position possible going into the playoffs.

Having the top seed?

Yup.

That’ll do it.

And while Celtics players were aware of where the team was in relation to Cleveland, being tied for the top spot with the Cavs isn’t something that Boston is getting too giddy about right now.

“We hear it, but that wasn’t our focus [against Miami],” said Marcus Smart. “Our focus was to come in, get another game, keep that momentum going before we start the playoffs.”

Coach Brad Stevens said not a word was spoken in the locker room after Sunday’s win about the team now being in a virtual tie with the Cavs.

“I think -- I talked about this earlier --obviously the guys, because they get . . . most of them. to be honest, because they’re asked so much, some of them obviously have already said they watch it pretty closely,” Stevens said. “But I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, it’s about playing as well as we can . . . ' ”

That and location, location, location.