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Third quarter in focus

Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

Coach Doc Rivers and associate head coach Tom Thibodeau need to find the reasons for Boston's second-half struggles.After Sunday's loss to the Spurs, we detailed Boston's third-quarter struggles this season, comparing it to the dominance the team displayed in third frames during the 2007-08 championship season.

NBA.com's John Schuhmann touched on Boston's second-half woes last week as well and he's got some pretty dynamite numbers to back it up. Here's a bit from Schuhmann (with a condensed chart below from NBA.com displaying Boston's efficiency woes in the second half of games)

A look at quarter-by-quarter numbers makes it clear that most NBA teams, even the good ones, are pretty inconsistent over the course of a game. For example, check out the Celtics, the most inconsistent team in the league from quarter to quarter.

The Celtics' defense is stifling in the first half and they're the best second-quarter team in the league. In fact, their +14.2 mark in the second quarter is better than any differential for any team in any quarter. But they can't maintain nearly that level after they come back out of the locker room.

In fact, only two teams, the Nets and Sixers, have more losses than the Celtics do when leading at halftime. Boston has led 52 of their 71 games at the half, but 16 of their 25 losses have come in that situation.

The Celtics didn't lead at the half Sunday night, but they were within a point before San Antonio opened the third quarter on a 12-0 run and emerged with a 21-point thumping.

Efficiency drain

The Celtics' offensive efficiency spikes in the second quarter, but collapses in the third. (Courtesy: NBA.com through 3/25)

The fourth-quarter efficiency numbers you can almost look beyond because it's hard to know the factors in those situations, particularly if the Celtics are resting starters on the bench in a blowout (as rare as that's been this year).

But those third-quarter stats are eye-popping. How can a team be so good in the second quarter, yet so awful in the third?

Part of the answer seems to be that, when the Celtics' bench is on, they tend to give the Celtics a nice second-quarter boost, stretching leads early in the frame, then passing the baton to the rested starters. But why the Celtics' starters then come out with lackluster energy in the third frame is a bit baffling.

Schuhmann whispers the "A" word (age):

Is it an age thing? Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace all shoot worse in the second half than they do in the first. Wallace's dropoff, from 47.8 percent in the first half to 33 percent in the second half, is by far the largest of any player in the league who has attempted at least 200 shots in each half this season. Yet, for some reason, he's attempted more shots in the second half (294) than he has in the first (278). Pierce suffers the next worst dropoff of the four Celtics vets, from 49.9 percent to 44.2 percent.

We'll leave you with one final stat to ponder: In Boston's last nine losses over the past two months, only once have they outscored the opposition in the third quarter (a 30-27 advantage over the Grizzlies on March 10). In the other eight games, Boston has been outscored, 199-154, or an average of 5.6 points per quarter in those losses.