The Celtics are a brick wall on defense. Year in, year out they are ranked at the top of the league in any defensive metric. They stifle their opponents with great rotations, communication, and killer execution. Then they get the ball and walk... slowly.... up the court. You almost get a sense that they'd rather still be playing defense.
Hopefully that will be changing this year. I've been doing this blogging thing for a bit, and I can tell you that I remember writing the phrase "the Celtics will look to run more this year" every single year at this time. It is always a goal because it is such an important aspect of scoring points. The easier they come the more you score. But as this team aged and suffered injuries to the younger players, all that got shoved to the back burner.
The Celtics ranked 21st in the league in pace (90.4 possessions per 48 minutes), 26th in scoring offense (91.8 points per game), 25th in turnover percentage (14.7 percent), and 20th in defensive rebound percentage (72.4 percent) last year. All that worked to negate the efforts of a defense that ranked first in opponent field goal percentage (41.9 percent) and second in defensive scoring average (89.3).
Not pretty. So, guess what. Doc Rivers says that we need to pick up the pace.
"We really need to increase our pace," Rivers said. "But we turned the ball over too much last year and that hampered our offense. When you Look at our efficiency, when we actually got a shot up at the basket we were pretty good – I’d like to increase the pace."
No kidding. But will it be more than just words this year? I think there's a really good chance of it, yeah. Largely due to personnel.
"We haven't had guys that really wanted to run. And I think we have more of those guys now. So that helps."
Last year we lost Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox way too soon. Both are burners that will help on the break a ton. Avery Bradley picked up the pace quite a bit before he had to be shut down in the playoffs. When he gets back he should help a great deal in this regard.
Interestingly, I'd point to losing Ray Allen as something that will help in this specific regard. Ray would occasionally take an opportunistic turnover and drive to the basket for a contested layup, but more often than not he was trailing the break and available as a release valve for the 3 pointer.
Contrast that with what Courtney Lee (also an excellent shooter) might bring to the table.
"On the offensive end, I’m looking to get out in transition to run and get some easy points and get some easy layups," said Lee, who has been slowed by a thigh bruise. "(Kevin Garnett) touched on that earlier today. He was like, ‘We didn’t get a lot of easy points. We had to work for everything.’ That’s one thing I’m going to try to do on the offensive end is get out and run." Lee is looking forward to running alongside Rondo. "In training camp we’ve connected on a couple fast-break points," Lee said. "That’s going to be huge for us. If we can get 10-12 points a game off transition, that’s huge."
Doc also mentions wanting to run more pick-and-rolls with this group. Something that wasn't as prevalent in the motion type sets that featured Ray Allen running through 2, 3, or 4 screens. Both Courtney Lee and Jason Terry are better at creating with the ball in their hands.
One way or another this team needs to generate points and the easiest way to do that is to get out and run. The players usually love this (at least in theory) because it is in their nature to enjoy the fast break and highlight reel aspect of the game. But in practice it takes conditioning and a commitment to run even when you are dead tired (a good bet when they have just stonewalled a good offensive team). The temptation to just sit back and take a quick breath is always there. Rondo finally has some guys that will run with him. Hopefully that makes a bid difference this year. 10 - 12 points a game off transition would be huge indeed.