BOSTON — The old adage about the NBA is that it is, at its core, a make-or-miss league. If there was ever a game that proved that to be true, the LA Clippers‘ 91-82 victory over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Wednesday night was it.
Boston (16-19), which has now lost three in a row and four of its past five games, had one of the worst shooting performances not just of this season, but in recent memory, as Boston shot 4-for-42 from 3-point range — including missing loads of wide-open shots — in losing a second straight game to a heavily shorthanded team.
“I guess so,” said Jaylen Brown, who scored 30 points but shot 13-for-36 for the game, when asked if shooting, good or bad, can be contagious. “We missed a lot of shots, and I thought we had a lot of open looks.
“We moved the ball and we got … I know they played zone, but we got a lot of great shots, I felt. Wide-open looks. And they didn’t go down.”
The numbers, at least to some degree, back him up. Here’s a quick run through the gory details, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information research:
The Celtics’ 4-for-42 shooting performance from 3-point range was the second-worst performance ever by a team shooting at least 40 3s (trailing only a 4-for-45 performance by the Houston Rockets on Feb. 28 of last season).
Boston went 1-for-18 in the fourth quarter, including missing its final 15 3-pointers of the game. Those 17 misses in the quarter were the most by any team in a single quarter in at least the past 25 seasons.
Boston’s 82 points on 101 field goal attempts is their lowest point total in a game with at least 100 field goal attempts since the 3-point line was introduced in the 1979-80 season.
Boston’s 4-for-39 performance on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers is the worst night any team has had on catch-and-shoot opportunities since Second Spectrum began using tracking data in the 2013-14 season, using a minimum of 35 attempts. Including tonight’s game, there have been 482 such games, and Boston’s game Wednesday night was last.
The difference between Boston’s actual effective field goal percentage (36.63) and its expected effective field goal percentage (56.68) was 19.95 — the worst mark any team has had in any game this season.
Brown’s 36 field goal attempts without an assist are the most by any player since former Celtic Antoine Walker took that many shots in a loss to the Wizards on Jan. 7, 1998. That said, Brown also had eight potential assists — tied for the most of any player this season in a game in which he finished with no actual assists.
In summation: The Celtics got tons of wide-open, quality shots — and missed virtually all of them.
None of that, however, changes the fact that Boston has now dropped back-to-back games to teams ravaged by a combination of injuries and COVID-19. The Clippers were so shorthanded that they had two players arrive in Boston hours before the game — including James Ennis, who played against them in a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday in Los Angeles — to fill out their roster.
The losses leave Boston in a three-way tie for 10th in the Eastern Conference standings with the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors. More importantly, it left them searching for answers as to how to snap out of a funk that has sent what recently was a positive performance during the hardest month of their season careening in the opposite direction.
“I think we did get a lot of open looks, despite what the statistics would say,” Brown said. “I don’t think we were forcing shots. I thought we got a lot of open looks that didn’t go down.
“I think it’s unfortunate timing because we wanted to respond from last game. A lot of those guys came out ready to fight, and we just came up short.
“We came up f—ing short.”
Unlike the game Brown referenced — Monday’s loss to the shorthanded Timberwolves, one of the worst performances of Boston’s season — coach Ime Udoka said there were some positives to take away from his team’s performance.
Boston mauled the Clippers on the glass, grabbing 21 offensive rebounds and taking 20 more shots. The Celtics committed only eight turnovers, compared to 16 for the Clippers, and they held LA to 91 points.
But that wasn’t enough to overcome a bad shooting night — one that sinks Boston further down the East standings, another disappointing night in a season full of them.
“We get 20 more shots, and we hold a team to 91 points … that’s a game we should win,” Udoka said.
Or, as Grant Williams put it: “I think shooting is something we have to be better at, I guess.”