Pushing the Pace: On the Celtics’ need for speed

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics offense has been hit or miss through nine games. Committing to a faster, more aggressive style of play will help give the men in green more consistency.

If there is one lesson we have learned through Boston’s first nine games this season, it’s that the Celtics will be an inconsistent team. A frustrating fact considering the budding potential they can flash on any given night. One game the Celtics will look like a well-oiled machine, with their ball movement and free-flowing attack proving a difficult matchup for just about anyone. The next, though, they’ll look a different unit entirely, struggling to generate any consistent offense, while playing a sluggish, lackadaisical brand of basketball.

This erratic play is to be expected from a young team, and it would be foolish to think these Celtics will be any different. Yet even though the season just began, it is pretty clear already what drives this team’s Jekyll and Hyde performances. While Boston’s defense has been quite impressive, the team’s offense has waffled between tremendous and lackluster in the early going.

During their four-game losing streak, the Celtics averaged just 87.5 points per game, and their Pace sat at a lowly 91.3—the worst mark in the league. Over the team’s next four victories, the C’s offense scored 107.5 points per game, and their Pace rose all the way to 19th in the NBA at 93.1. As many have pointed out, Boston’s winning streak coincided with Jordan Crawford’s move to starting point guard and increased minutes for Phil Pressey off the bench. Both have been crucial in helping to lead the Celtics’ offensive attack, and prior to the Bobcats loss, had spearheaded a faster, more direct Celtics offense.

For a young, inexperienced team, generating offense through sheer volume and the easier opportunities that transition offense can provide is crucial. Take this stat, for example: In their first four games, the Celtics averaged 73.5 shots a night, but during their next four wins, Boston took 89.5 shots per game, including a remarkable 95 in their first win against Orlando. On Wednesday against Charlotte, the Celtics reverted to their former ways, taking just 77 shots and settling for far too many jumpers. Given the team’s roster and Brad Stevens’ desire to employ a fluid, free-flowing offense, the C’s should look to be aggressive and play with a heightened pace at every opportunity.

Just a quick glance at Boston’s roster demonstrates why the Celtics should shape their offense around a transition-oriented style (and why Tommy Heinsohn’s all-too familiar bellows of "Run! Run! Run!" are more spot-on now than ever). The team is largely devoid of a jump-shooting threat, and outside of a banged-up Jared Sullinger, lacks any big man who can consistently score with his back to the basket. Beyond Jeff Green, the Celtics have no one who can create offense in a half-court setting.

What they do have, of course, is a bunch of good athletes with quickness, solid ball-handling ability, and—the likes of Kelly Olynyk and Gerald Wallace included—strong passing skills. Every player on this team can benefit from the open looks and opportunities that are found in transition, and the results so far (both on an individual and team basis), speak for themselves.

The good news is that the Celtics have already shown the capability to play and succeed with a fast-paced brand of play. Pouring on points against the Jazz and Magic may not be the greatest feat, but those 111 points against Miami on the road were no small achievement. With some tough games ahead (especially against defensive juggernauts in San Antonio and Indiana), the Celtics will have to keep pushing the pace.

Playing like they did against the Bobcats on Wednesday won’t win them many games in this league, but building an offense through looks in transition and an aggressive mentality will serve them well in the long run.

Alex Skillin is a regular contributor to CelticsBlog. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.

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