Celtics smoke Pistons with a 42-point first quarter, eventually lose

Thursday December 19th, 2013
Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley each scored 10 points in the first quarter against the Pistons on Wednesday. (Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley each scored 10 points in the first quarter against the Pistons on Wednesday. (Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 12-14 Celtics are a generally respectable outfit, one that has managed to win more games than expected and keep competitive against quality opponents. That's all well and good, though it doesn't exactly explain how a team lacking for scorers erupted with a 42-point opening salvo against the Pistons on Wednesday. Though impressive, the explosion ultimately was for naught as the Pistons crafted a 107-106 victory in Boston.

Boston isn't an explosive offensive team by any means, as the Celtics rank 23rd in points per possession this season. Yet they've managed to get the jump on their opponents more often than not, and in first quarters have scored at a rate right around league average. Against Detroit Boston etched its highest-scoring first quarter of the season, but only barely; a game against Denver earlier this month yielded 39 points in the first, though otherwise the Celtics had scored 30 points or more in the first just twice in 25 tries.

The Celtics nearly doubled their usual first-quarter output against a Pistons team that was completely out of sorts. Everything seemed to go down for Boston, whether inside or out, off the pass or off the bounce. To the shot chart!


Detroit nearly drowned in that sea of green, almost done in not by a cast of stars, but the likes of Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley -- both of whom scored in double-digits in the opening quarter. Each of the Celtics' starters scored six points or more in those first 12 minutes, aided by an opponent that committed five live-ball turnovers and offered up plenty of long rebounds. Boston managed to convert four of those turnovers for points, though they also made the most of nearly every scoring opportunity in the quarter.

Though this made for the Celtics' season-high for points scored in any quarter (much less the first alone), six teams have scored 42 points or more in a single frame this season -- including two (Minnesota and Houston) that matched or bested that total in the first. Both numbers are a bit on the high side relative to benchmarks from previous seasons, which makes some sense given the increasing pace of the league's fastest teams. Houston led the way in pace last season with 98.6 possessions per game, per NBA.com, but thus far six teams are topping that mark this season with two more just below the cut. More possessions means a greater prevalence of gaudy scoring quarters, particularly when two run-and-gun teams line up for a track meet.

What's curious in this case is that neither Boston nor Detroit really qualifies for that distinction. Both are slower than average in terms of pace of play, with Boston ranking 23rd by that measure -- just below the post-centric Pacers. Unlike some other high-scoring quarters, this wasn't a stylistic choice; the Celtics just caught a string of makes, the Pistons made it easy, and 42 points later Boston held a commanding, 19-point lead.

Naturally, every bit of that lead was erased in the ensuing quarters, as the Celtics sputtered offensively and wound up losing by a single point, 107-106. C'est la vie for a sub-.500 team, for whom every positive action comes with a slightly larger and opposite reaction.

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