Celtics Insider: Overcoming shooting slumps will vault team to next level

Jan 1, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) lines up a three point basket in the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) lines up a three point basket in the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Finding ways to win when the shots aren’t falling, especially from deep, is something the Boston Celtics are working on. It’s an attribute that often separates the great teams from the elite ones, with the latter usually ending a season on top of the world.

A way to consistently get over and around this obstacle will move the Celtics into an elite level and the extra edge needed to claim a title in 2023.

Defense is one way to do that. Boston (26-11), with the league’s best record, has been playing closer to their capabilities in recent weeks.  The 123 points allowed in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday was the most Boston has allowed since allowing 123 to the Golden State Warriors on 12/10. And during the four-game winning streak prior to the loss to Denver, the Celtics were holding opponents to just over 107 points per game.

Finding a balance on offense, too, is a must for a team at times living and dying by the three-point shot.

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Boston Celtics sharpshooter Sam Hauser. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images) /

The three-pointer, and amount of attempts taken, is nothing new in the modern NBA. Past seasons have seen the Celtics rely on this shot a little too much, even without the consistency needed to warrant so many attempts.

In 2022-23, Boston has taken a step forward in that regard, though it’s been a struggle as of late. Only once in their last eight games has the team hit above 36 percent of their attempts from deep.

It’s shown in their record (4-4) during that span, and an issue that needs to be corrected soon or more of the same pattern will be seen in coming months.

The Celtics currently rank second in three-point makes (15.7) and attempts (42) in the NBA, hitting at a 37.3 percent clip. This ranks eighth overall and Boston has a roster built in which the majority of those who see action can connect from deep.

In somewhat of a twist, Boston’s two leading-scorers Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are sharing the most struggles. The two are carrying a heavy load, averaging a combined 59 points but are combining to hit only roughly 6-17 from long range each game.

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It’s hard to argue against the Celtics from relying on the three because they are fully capable of going off. In games in which they’ve hit 20 or more this season, the Celtics are 7-0, including a November 5 victory over the New York Knicks where they went 27-51 from long range.

Three times the Celtics have attempted 51 or more three-pointers this season and one each game. So, in some ways, it’s hard to ask them to shoot less because they do find success when hoisting them up like a pop-a-shot.

And their record is very similar across other metrics. When attempting 40 or less threes, the Celtics are 12-4. At 46-50 three-point attempts, Boston is 9-4.

The real cold spot appears to be between 41 and 45 threes attempted per game, where Boston is 2-3.

Boston has settled into poor performances with the three-pointer in their 11 losses, shooting only 30.6 percent. A saving grace is that Tatum and Brown are attacking the rim with ferocity this season and the Celtics are delivering from other spaces on the floor.

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The first six weeks of the season, Boston was a model of efficiency on offense. And it showed in their field goal attempts and makes, regularly shooting 50 percent or higher.

Thru November 30, there were 11 such games, where the Celtics went 10-1.

The highlight was a 140-105 victory over Charlotte on November 28, where the Celtics shot 59.1 percent. Even in a loss, on 10/28 to Cleveland, the Celtics knocked down 51.2 percent from the field. (The Cavs have Boston’s number so far this season, winning both games with the Celtics going a combined 24-74 from deep in those games).

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The 50 percent games have slowed since the start of December, with Boston only getting above that mark once. This was a blazing 58.8 percent in a victory over Milwaukee on Christmas Day.

Conversely, the Celtics are 0-3 in which they shoot under 40 percent. There’s usually not a lot one can do to overcome that, unless their own defense is just as stingy (it’s not mid-90s basketball, after all).

A dip is expected as the season goes along and Boston has still had some games between 46 and 49 percent from the field. And they’ve been fairly steady since a 12/21 loss to the Indiana Pacers where they shot only 38.6 percent.

At a team percentage of 47.9, the Celtics currently rank 10th. Preferably, getting into the top-5 — along with their solid defense — can help Boston overcome any shooting woes from deep (or, you know, find their rhythm again and get their three-point number closer to a 40 percent average).

Hopefully things can get back to good this upcoming week.

A peek at Boston Celtics upcoming games

Boston will finish out a four-game road trip with three more games this week. The first is against the Oklahoma City Thunder on 1/3. The Celtics picked up a four-point win in November over the Thunder, buoyed by Tatum’s 27 points and 10 rebounds and a Marcus Smart 22-point, 8-assist effort.

On 1/5, Boston hops over to play the Dallas Mavericks. The Celtics won an earlier matchup, despite 42 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists from Luka Dončić. Tatum had a 37/13/5 line that game while Brown added 31 points.

Closing out the week will be a Saturday game in San Antonio, where the Spurs and Celtics will meet for the first time season.

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Boston has a chance to sweep this slate of games and much of that will depend on the return of their deft shooting touch. Preferably, I’d like to see more of a balance, where Boston maybe takes between 35 and 40 threes per game.  How they overcome future cold-shooting nights will be the true test, and if they find ways to do that, this team will march towards a title come June.