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Random Stat: Team Quarter by Quarter results

Q: was wondering if you've ever looked at the relationship between a team's record in individual quarters and how that relates to their overall record. obviously teams that win more quarters will win more games, but i'm thinking about it in the same way run differential is used in baseball to predict which teams are under-performing and due for a winning streak and those that are over-performing and due, say, to fall in the season's second half? -- Aaron Wherry

A: Good idea, let's take a look!

Team Quarter by Quarter to 2/22
2005-06
YTD
Winning% by Quarter
OT
CBA
Team
W-L
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
W-L
Pts
 Detroit 43-9 .640  .553  .673  .531  2-2 252.5 
 Dallas 42-11 .647  .580  .558  .600  4-2 251.5 
 San Antonio 41-12 .686  .592  .620  .500  3-2 249 
 Phoenix 36-17 .673  .617  .569  .580  1-4 236 
 Miami 34-20 .549  .511  .560  .577  2-0 220 
 Cleveland 32-22 .529  .551  .571  .521  3-0 212.5 
 Memphis 30-23 .538  .608  .627  .469  1-3 208.5 
 L.A. Clippers 30-23 .490  .500  .694  .560  3-2 208 
 New Jersey 30-23 .540  .490  .580  .529  2-0 203 
 Denver 29-26 .462  .520  .577  .519  2-4 201 
 New Orleans 29-25 .500  .569  .407  .549  0-2 196 
 Indiana 27-23 .490  .659  .531  .580  0-0 193 
 L.A. Lakers 27-26 .592  .543  .460  .500  3-3 191.5 
 Washington 27-25 .521  .469  .542  .481  3-1 185.5 
 Sacramento 25-29 .519  .519  .490  .440  3-3 181.5 
 Utah 26-28 .462  .400  .500  .510  4-2 179.5 
 Chicago 24-29 .549  .353  .520  .571  2-5 177.5 
 Golden State 24-29 .440  .490  .608  .440  1-2 177 
 Minnesota 23-30 .583  .412  .520  .531  0-3 177 
 Philadelphia 26-27 .538  .531  .347  .442  4-3 177 
 Milwaukee 27-27 .440  .365  .529  .353  4-1 173 
 Houston 23-31 .380  .490  .462  .577  2-1 172.5 
 Boston 21-33 .423  .413  .509  .500  1-3 163.5 
 Toronto 20-34 .408  .510  .449  .538  1-4 163.5 
 Seattle 21-34 .462  .462  .265  .385  3-2 151.5 
 Orlando 19-34 .412  .529  .400  .392  2-3 149.5 
 Portland 18-35 .431  .447  .347  .408  1-1 142 
 Atlanta 16-36 .380  .500  .471  .404  1-1 139.5 
 Charlotte 15-41 .365  .444  .339  .529  3-2 139.5 
 New York 15-38 .347  .412  .286  .490  3-3 128 



Fans of the old CBA may remember at one point their standings counted quarter scores as well as the final result:

3 pts for a win
1 pt for each quarter won
1/2 pt for a tied quarter

So the table shows the winning percentage for each team by quarter -- note that we ignore "tied quarters" so Detroit is 32-18-2 in the first quarter, which we score as a .640 success rate.

Correlations for winning % in a quarter to overall win rate?

.86 - 1st Qtr
.56 - 2nd Qtr
.71 - 3rd Qtr
.44 - 4th Qtr

That first quarter number is powerful indeed, which makes you wonder about teams like Minnesota (.583 Q1) and Chicago (.549) while raising doubts about the Nuggets (.462) and Clippers (.490)

For those big on halftime speeches though, Dunleavy's Clips are the #1 team for 3rd Qtr win rate at .694

The Sixers meanwhile have excellent first half results, but fall apart completely in the third quarter and limp home in the fourth.

Now you may be wondering what the game by game correlation is for winning a quarter and winning the game, and that works out to be:

.37 - 1st Qtr
.29 - 2nd Qtr
.40 - 3rd Qtr
.28 - 4th Qtr

So on a single game basis, the third quarter has been the most predictive, edging out the first quarter.

Of course counting a one point lead the same as a twelve point lead has its drawbacks, so let's look at the net points per quarter by team for another take on matters.

Team Qtr by Qtr to 2/22
2005-06
YTD
Net Points by Quarter
Team
W-L
Game
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
OT
 Detroit 43-9 +8.5  +2.8  +1.8  +3.5  +0.4  -1.0 
 Dallas 42-11 +7.2  +2.9  +1.2  +0.6  +2.1  +2.2 
 Phoenix 36-17 +6.8  +3.0  +2.7  +1.2  +0.1  -1.2 
 San Antonio 41-12 +6.5  +2.9  +1.1  +2.6  -0.4  +3.8 
 Miami 34-20 +4.1  +1.2  -0.1  +1.6  +1.1  +5.0 
 Indiana 27-23 +3.2  +0.2  +1.1  +1.3  +0.6  +0.0 
 Cleveland 32-22 +3.0  +0.0  +1.3  +0.9  +0.5  +6.3 
 Memphis 30-23 +2.3  +0.0  +2.3  +0.9  -0.8  -1.8 
 L.A. Clippers 30-23 +1.4  -0.2  -1.0  +2.0  +0.8  -0.6 
 L.A. Lakers 27-26 +1.4  +1.0  +0.0  +0.0  +0.6  -1.5 
 Washington 27-25 +1.4  +0.8  -0.6  +0.5  +0.3  +4.8 
 Denver 29-26 +0.6  -0.5  +0.4  -0.1  +0.9  -1.0 
 New Jersey 30-23 +0.5  +0.5  -0.1  +0.2  -0.4  +7.5 
 Sacramento 25-29 +0.5  +0.4  +0.4  +0.8  -1.3  +1.3 
 Chicago 24-29 -0.1  +1.3  -1.7  +0.4  +0.3  -2.7 
 Golden State 24-29 -0.4  -1.3  -0.6  +2.1  -0.5  -1.3 
 New Orleans 29-25 -0.7  -0.7  +1.7  -1.7  +0.2  -5.0 
 Minnesota 23-30 -1.0  +1.6  -1.2  -0.8  -0.5  -2.3 
 Houston 23-31 -1.1  -2.1  +0.3  -0.3  +1.0  +0.7 
 Philadelphia 26-27 -1.6  +0.1  +0.5  -1.4  -0.6  -1.1 
 Boston 21-33 -1.7  -0.8  -0.9  +0.1  -0.2  +1.8 
 Milwaukee 27-27 -1.8  -0.5  -1.2  +1.0  -1.4  +2.8 
 Toronto 20-34 -2.3  -1.3  -0.3  -1.5  +1.2  -4.2 
 Utah 26-28 -3.0  -0.7  -1.5  -1.6  +0.8  +0.0 
 Orlando 19-34 -3.3  -1.1  -0.8  -1.1  -0.2  -2.0 
 Charlotte 15-41 -4.8  -1.8  -0.3  -3.0  +0.1  +0.4 
 Seattle 21-34 -5.1  -0.6  -0.4  -2.3  -1.9  +0.4 
 Atlanta 16-36 -5.7  -2.3  -1.5  -0.3  -1.5  -2.5 
 New York 15-38 -6.0  -2.2  -1.5  -2.6  +0.4  -1.3 
 Portland 18-35 -7.8  -2.3  -1.0  -2.6  -1.8  -1.5 





The point differential (net points per game) is generally a better playoff predictor than pure win% and you can see right now there are four powerhouse teams in the NBA.

Running the correlations for net points per quarter to overall winning percentage shows:

.85 - 1st Qtr
.67 - 2nd Qtr
.75 - 3rd Qtr
.38 - 4th Qtr

This again reinforces the 1st/3rd quarters as key, with the fourth quarter less important because of the number of "decided" games having to be played out.

So the oft spouted concept that NBA games are just back and forth and it all comes down to the last few minutes when the superior teams exert their will is demonstrably false: the good teams get the lead early and hold on.

If you just add the net points for the 1st quarter and 3rd quarter together, you get:

1) Detroit +6.3
2) San Antonio +5.5
Hmmm...

Getting back to the second part of Aaron's question though, what teams might we predict for better/worse performance in the post All Star break part of the season? That's something that really requires more research since if a team shows inconsistent results from one quarter to another, which quarter is the aberration?

Still, if you do a quick regression on the net points numbers, you get an R^2 of .88 with this:

.4999 - Intercept
.0419 - 1st Qtr Net
.0332 - 2nd Qtr Net
.0289 - 3rd Qtr Net
.0199 - 4th Qtr Net

So plugging in the numbers we find these are the outlier teams (actual win% minus projected win% listed alongside the team name, so Utah have an actual win% of .481 but a projected by the qtr net points of .390, meaning they have won +.091 more than would be expected from their quarter splits):

    Over-achievers
  1. Utah +.091
  2. Portland +.081
  3. Dallas +.072
  4. Milwaukee +.060
  5. New Orleans +.055
  6. New Jersey +.051
  7. San Antonio +.049
  8. Detroit +.041
  9. L.A. Clippers +.034
  10. Seattle +.025
    Underachievers
  1. Phoenix (!) -.073
  2. Sacramento -.064
  3. Chicago -.062
  4. Charlotte -.062
  5. Minnesota -060
  6. Indiana -.054
  7. Boston -.046
  8. Toronto -.046
  9. L.A. Lakers -.045
  10. Orlando -.033
If the Suns are truly under-achieving then the rest of the league better watch out! On the other hand we wouldn't be surprised if the Kings and Pacers looked much better in the remaining games, now that the Artest/Peja situation has been settled.

For the over-achievers the key is perhaps the teams without much margin of error in making the playoffs -- could Milwaukee and New Orleans slip out of the top eight in their respective conferences?


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