The Extra Session: Celtics on Pace to Set OT Record, Thunder Showing Historic Dominance

The extra session.  The 5th Quarter.  Overtime.  After Sunday night’s Triple-OT victory over Denver, the Celtics have now played a whopping 9 overtime games in their first 50.  This accounts for a total of 70 extra minutes (5 single OTs, 3 double OTs and now a triple OT), the equivalent of an extra 1.5 games.  Boston’s record is now 5-4 in overtime.  Google provides answers for 95% of the random unusual questions regarding trivial sports information, but this one took some research.  When searching “Most overtime games in an NBA Season,” Google struggled.  I decided to check ESPN’s “Extended Standings” as far back as they go (2001-02).

Only ten teams have had 10 overtime games in a single season since 2001.  The Celtics and Mavericks have both played 9 and have 32 games remaining this season.  If either can manage to force three extra sessions over the final 32, they will have set what I claim to be the modern NBA record for most overtime games in a regular season.  Hooray.

The OT Leaders

The Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors both played 11 OT games in 2003-04.

Portland, who fittingly finished 41-41 (can’t get any more even than that) played two OT games in it’s final three, including a meaningless double-OT thriller to the Lakers in the season finale.  Toronto, who finished an underwhelming 33-49 in 03-04, finished 6-5 in OT contests and 27-44 in regulation games.  Sadly, Toronto and Portland didn’t make it to OT in their two meetings with each other that year.

Eight other teams have played 10 OT games since 2001.  Only one of those 10 teams (2010-11 OKC who went 8-2) won more than 6 of those OT games.

3 Points or Less since 2000

That same year Portland and Toronto each played 11 overtime games, Toronto played a staggering number of games that resulted in a final score determined by 3 points or less (20), while Portland’s 11 OT thrillers was nearly the same (13) as it’s number of games decided by 3 or less.  Strangely, there isn’t much of a correlation between OT games and very close final scores. 

In 03-04, the 36-46 Celtics (Perk’s rookie year! Vin Baker!  Walter McCarty! Jiri Welsch!) finished with 19 games decided by 3 or less, but only 1 of their 82 went to OT.  I seem to remember the refs “swallowing” their whistles a lot at the end of games that year.

  • In 2001-02, Houston (28-54) played a ridiculous 26 games decided by 3 or less.  Record in those games: 11-15.
  • In 2005-06, Atlanta (26-56) played 24 games decided by 3 or less.  In those 24, they went an even 12-12.
  • In 2008-09, Indiana (36-46) played 21 of these nail-biters, resulting in a 9-12 record.

During last year’s strike-shortened season of 66 games, Golden State (23-43), lost of 17 of their final 20 games.  The Warriors finished a miserable 5-12 in games decided by 3 points or less.  Not that they were tanking the final 20 games, of course.  Easy to convince David Stern and company you’re not lottery-planning when you lose by 3 points every other game.

What do teams that play many close games have in common?  They’re often some of the most mediocre teams in the league, but they aren’t quite bad enough to get blown out.

Record Dominance: 10 Points or More, since 1980

In case you’re wondering which team has spanked the NBA on a nightly basis this year, that would be the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are merely 28-2 in games decided by 10 points or more.

Since 1990, the teams with the highest winning percentages in games decided by 10 points or more:

*Chicago 46-2 1995-96 72-10
*Boston 45-3 2007-08 66-16
*Boston 40-3 1985-86 67-15
*Chicago 45-4 1996-97 69-13
*Chicago 44-4 1991-92 67-15
Seattle 43-5 1993-94 63-19
*San Antonio 40-5 2004-05 59-23
Phoenix 32-4 2006-07 61-21
Utah 36-5 1996-97 64-18
*Philadelphia 39-6 1982-83 67-15
Phoenix 34-5 1992-93 62-20
Cleveland 34-5 1992-93 54-28
*Chicago 34-5 1997-98 62-20
Cleveland 32-5 2009-10 61-21
Milwaukee 38-6 1984-85 59-23
Boston 36-6 1986-87 59-23
Cleveland 41-7 2008-09 66-16
Boston 35-6 2008-09 62-20

* won NBA championship

2012-13 Oklahoma City             28-2 (pace: 45-3)          overall record (pace: 63-19)

Not surprisingly, blowing teams away seems to have a direct correlation with winning the NBA Championship.  One interesting note: In the 90’s, the NBA was much more top-heavy in terms of talent distribution throughout the league, which contributed to the Bulls’ legendary regular seasons (including 72 wins in 95-96).  The 2004-05 Spurs, the 2007-08 Celtics and this year’s Thunder and Spurs may have won 70 games had they been playing in mid-90’s.

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