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The Celtics were 20th in pace last year. Does that need to change?

Speeding the game up could help them avoid falling into the trap of isolation ball.

NBA: MAY 29 NBA Playoffs - Heat at Celtics
Jaylen Brown dribbles as Max Strus defends.
Photo by Stephen Nadler/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At times last year, particularly in the Heat series, the Celtics’ offense looked slow, sluggish and predictable.

Isolation ball became the norm, shooters stood and watched and defenses knew what was coming. The Celtics (like most teams) are at their best when the ball is zipping around the court like a hot potato. They were second in offensive rating in the regular season, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but there are some areas of concern to address.

It’s easy to sit on the couch and kindly request that they play with urgency and togetherness. It’s hard, in reality, to penetrate a sturdy defense like Miami’s and make that happen.

There is a solution, however. It may not be a panacea, but it could help. What if the Celtics play with more pace? Pace, one of Brian Scalabrine’s favorite terms, is defined as how many possessions a team uses per 48 minutes.

This may surprise some of you, but per, the Celtics were 20th in the league in pace last year (99.15).

This is just one person’s opinion, but I believe that needs to change. Do it for Tommy Heinsohn, if nothing else. Run, run, run, baby!

The Celtics are very difficult to beat when they’re playing fast. The main reason is because they’re very good, but also because it suits their players’ skill sets well.

Jaylen Brown is absolutely one of the best transition players in the NBA, if not the best. He averaged 4.7 fastbreak points last year, which put him fifth in the league. But, he was just 347th overall in pace.

So, what does that tell us? Get the rebound, outlet it to Brown and let him burst by the defense before they know what hit them. If the defense does get set up, don’t default to bringing it back out and resetting the offense. Pace doesn’t always have to equate to transition; it simply means working quickly and efficiently to yield beneficial results. Trust your playmakers to make plays in space.

Yeah, yeah, Brown’s left hand. We get it. That 10-turnover Game 7 is still engrained in your mind, and it probably will be for a while. We all know he needs to improve in that area, but what do you think he’s working on right now?

Brown is a fascinating player, in the sense that his biggest strength is also his biggest weakness. Personally, though, I’m willing to live with those mistakes because of all the tremendous plays he makes on a nightly basis.

How about Jayson Tatum? He was 404th in pace. That one’s not too surprising. Tatum is a smooth operator, and he likes to take his time to plot his move, pounce on his opponent’s weaknesses and use his strengths to his advantage.

But if Tatum is already into his action early in the shot clock, and the double comes, he has time to make the right read, find a teammate and lead them to an easy bucket. When the offense has no purpose or precision, and the shot clock ticks down to single digits, the Celtics go from great to average.

So, attack early, speed the game up and trust that they can out-skill their opponent.

The Celtics had no players in the top-50 in pace last season. Mike Muscala was 77th, and outside of that, next on the list was J.D. Davison at 275. The first rotational player was Marcus Smart at 332, and he’s gone, so the Celtics need to adjust accordingly.

One player who should be at the crux of this general shift in mindset is Derrick White. White is at his best when he’s playing freely and without fear. When he’s confident, in attack mode and given room to make mistakes, he tends to rise to the occasion.

Another is Payton Pritchard, whose shiftiness should shine through if the Celtics play faster.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Al Horford, Kristaps Porzingis, Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon and Sam Hauser are all great, but they aren't necessarily speedsters. That’s OK, though. Brown and Tatum are the focal point of the offense, so funnel everything through them, then let the shooters and rollers generate offense through those vessels.

Joe Mazzulla should encourage his team to play faster, and, if necessary, not be afraid to go deeper into his bench this season. It doesn’t need to be a track meet, but it should be more fluid than it was last year. That doesn’t mean you should stop playing defense; it just means there will theoretically be more opportunities to score.

The teams that led the NBA in pace last year? The Warriors and Spurs. Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich know a thing or two about winning.

At the height of their powers, those Warriors teams would turn the ball over constantly and it wouldn’t matter. They played fast, and with an unmatched fury. Golden State finished first in pace in 2015.

The Celtics don’t need to be at the top of this list, but they shouldn’t be in the bottom third.

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