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Celtics need to capitalize on transition opportunities against the Hawks

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Atlanta's defense has been excellent this season, so the Celtics need to make the most of their chances in transition.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics were held without a single fast-break point in the first half of game one. This dearth of fast-break buckets, not to mention the dreadful shooting display, put them in a massive hole going into halftime. But the Celtics picked away at the lead in the second half. Scoring 15 points on fast breaks was an important part of that effort. For the Celtics to stay competitive in this series, they need to find a way to score in transition against the stout defense of the Hawks.

The best transition opportunities come after live-ball turnovers (steals, bad passes, etc.). The stealing team can capitalize on a defense that isn't in position and get a great look in transition. The chart below shows the massive increase in points per possession following a live ball turnover, compared to the other ways of gaining possession.

FGM

Def REB

Live Ball TO

BOS  PPP

1.02

1.05

1.25

NBA  PPP

1.01

1.06

1.22

Live ball turnovers are great, but you can't just rely on them for quick baskets. The main reason is that you don't get that many of them. Historically, only about half of turnovers are of the live-ball variety. The same applies for the Celtics this season, with steals accounting for 55% of the turnovers they force.

This means the Celtics need to push the ball after defensive rebounds as well. The challenge there is Atlanta's defense. They drop back really quickly after a shot attempt. It's common to see four players hustling back before the rebound is even corralled by the other team. Plus, they take plenty of quick shots where some players don't even have to leave the defensive end. This is a small sample of clips, but it shows the difficulty in trying to start a fast break against the Hawks.

Just because it's tough doesn't mean the Celtics should give up trying though. There are situations where Boston can find success against the Hawks after a rebound. The following is an example of that.

ET transition

Atlanta's floor balance isn't great here. Bazemore cuts to the basket, then fights for the rebound. Millsap stays under the basket, and Horford is a step slow in reacting. This gives Isaiah the chance to jumpstart the break. Turner sprints behind the remaining Hawks defenders, and Thomas finds him after a nifty look-off to Bradley.

The key to all of this is a commitment to running. The Celtics pushed the ball often in the second half, even after made shots. They'll need more of this in the games to come. If they try to beat the Hawks solely with half-court offense, they'll get trounced. Atlanta is packing the paint against drives, and Boston doesn't have the consistent shooting to make them pay for it. Execution on these transition opportunities is huge, because Boston might only get six or seven live-ball turnovers in a game. The same goes for viable fast breaks off of rebounds.

The loss of Avery Bradley is a factor here too. His defense and shooting might be more important, but he's second on the team in fast-break points per game. Boston needs to replace those somehow. Terry Rozier could be that guy. He's shown great rebounding ability for a guard. Rozier is a springy jumper, and can start breaks on his own after pulling down a rebound. He's due to see an increase in minutes, so this is the perfect time to put his elite athleticism to use.