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The Showtime Celtics

The Celtics played to two of their major offensive strengths against Memphis.

With Rajon Rondo consistently pushing tempo, the C’s got out in transition regularly and put up 26 fast break points. Running is an efficiency move for the Celtics as they’re first in the league with 1.2 points per transition possession (per mySynergySports).

They also launched up 20 three-pointers, another good thing. The Celtics shoot 42.2% on threes, which is first in the league by a healthy margin over the second place Hawks, who are hitting 39.9%. The Celtics have shot 20 or more three-pointers only five times this season. They’ve won each of those games.

The win against Memphis was a frustratingly atypical performance for the C’s because they play so slow — they’re third last in the league in pace — and as a result, they only get up 15.4 three-point shots a game (22nd in the league). Despite much prodding from Doc Rivers to push tempo, the Celtics often default to walking the ball upcourt and settling into their offensive sets with around 12 seconds left on the clock.

Pace is only partially responsible for the lack of efficient shots, of course. It’s reasonable to wonder if the Celtics’ offensive play selection is maximizing their offensive output. It’s even more reasonable to wonder about the lineups, and whether they’re “young” enough to maintain their energy. And it’s obvious the Celtics lack the kind of rebounding that promotes the running game.

We’ve touched on this structural inefficiency in the Boston offense before, but it bears repeating: the Celtics remain 17th in the league in offensive efficiency.

With few obvious ways to upgrade the offensive talent on the roster, the C’s have to find ways to get more out of what they have if they want to do any damage in the playoffs. They need easy, efficient buckets. Grinding for every basket in the halfcourt is going to bear little fruit and wear the older guys out quickly. That’s the deadly little secret about the C’s recent success: it’s probably not sustainable four times in seven games against great teams. Because the burden on both sides of the ball is going to be exhausting.

There will be flashes, of course. You’ll remember Kevin Garnett’s huge game three against Miami in the playoffs last season when he put up 28 and 18. But also remember the last two games of the series, where he shot just 7-23. That’s what aging does to players. The peaks are still there, they just come less and less frequently and it takes more time to recover from the exertion of the climb.

This regular season is really just a lab experiment for the playoffs. What other options do the C’s have besides asking the Big Three (plus Rondo) to do everything?

Rivers has been a lot more creative this year — partly out of necessity — in mixing and matching his top four guys with the other parts on the roster. One of the more promising things he’s done involves pairing younger bigs with Rondo and some combination of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus.

It was encouraging to see Chris Wilcox and JaJuan Johnson filling lanes and outrunning the Memphis transition defenders yesterday with wing players spotting up on the arc (have a look at that clip at the top; if Wilcox had been covered, Rondo still had two options for three-balls). These kinds of lineups maximize what Rondo can do offensively.

So, there’s something to keep in mind as the year wears on: can the C’s build the kind of trust in new lineups and combinations so they can feel comfortable deploying them in the playoffs?

  • ripsonics

    every time we walk the ball up the court.. i scream at the TV.

    I have been wanting this team to run more every game, and to do it consistently. The young guys are going to be more effective running the ball when they are in instead of running half court offense against (other) top tier teams.

    If the younger, more athletic second unit can come in and run all over everyone and get some easy buckets, that will make things easier. it will shift the tempo of the game on the opposing defense, and will hopefully tire them out. Secondly, because the second unit doesnt execute as well as the first unit, this will give them a better chance at scoring. Thats what I think..

    Go C's

    • are you going to change your name if the Kings move to Seattle and become the new sonics

  • skeeds

    Doc has the right idea. He mixes his lineups more than before, and even if only cause he was forced to, he was able to get some excellent hustle and fastbreak points from the backups. Bradley, Pietrus, Wilcox, even Sasha, have all shown great signs in that department. Rondo & Wilcox is a pair with good dynamic, but so is Bradley with Pierce. With the ball in P's hands Bradley is free to cut to the basket, and get some easy points. When you manage your 7th or 8th scoring option giving you 10 points, you're on the right track.

    So to get the most of everyone, Doc needs to keep his rotations as loose as possible, and adapt to the situations. More or less the exact opposite of what he's done in the last 5 years. But hey, it's working now, isn't it?

  • Rav

    Our starting lineup's the oldest it's been in the Big 3 era, but our bench is the most athletic. Now that we have good shooters off our bench (Dooling, Pietrus, Moore), and athletic bigs (Wilcox, JJJ), we can have Rondo run it up the floor every time, and still find a decent option if the fast break doesn't succeed.

    Our starting lineup's experience and skill level is why we are good in transition. Their age though, is why we can't run like the Nuggets or the Warriors. Also, if we did run more, our transition efficiency would probably drop – we're good because we're selective in when we push the pace.

  • Rhapsody

    Just thought I'd let you know that I think you have a bug somewhere. Whenever I click on the "older entries" link/button at the bottom of the homepage, I am taken to a new URL (celticshub.com/page/2/), but the content/articles are exactly the same as the first page/homepage. The same thing happens when I move on to page 3, 4, etc, and it doesn't change when I refresh. Not complaining or anything; just thought I'd let you know.

    By the way, great job on the site! I've been regularly reading this blog for a few years now (was sad to see Zach go but was delighted by the addition of Ryan and Hayes… and Janos!), and I can always rely on you guys to give me my daily dose of Celtics news. Also glad that that fresh and exciting new blog I got hooked on years ago is still around, wonderful as ever, and going strong.