For Inconsistent C’s, Pace and Identity Matter

(AP Photo)

Despite starting the game shooting 1 for 12 from the field and trailing by as many as 17, the Celtics had multiple opportunities to win Monday night’s game in Dallas. They took a six point lead briefly in the fourth quarter before Dirk Nowitzki took over and scored 12 of the Mavs next 20 points to essentially defeat the Celtics. Sure there was the phantom call on Crowder’s three-pointer before the buzzer that allowed him to go three for three at the line to send the game to overtime, but let’s get real, that game was over during regulation. And honestly, that’s fine and I’m going to tell you why.

The Celtics came out of halftime and played like the Celtics we know and love. They dug in, got some stops, and most important of all, they got out and ran in transition. They ran off turnovers, they ran off misses, and they even ran off makes. The outcome? The Celtics beat the Mavs in the third quarter by a tune of 33-18 and carried a two point lead into the fourth quarter. Had they kept this pace up the rest of the game, I’m under the impression that they could have won that game by double-digits. Instead, once they gained a six point lead, for whatever reason they decided to slow it up and play in a half-court offense. And I’ll tell you what, against good teams the Celtics will lose 8 out of 10 games when they decide to slow it up and play in a half-court system. Why? Because good teams are a thousand times better than us when the tempo is slow and the Celtics thrive when they run and create havoc.

For starters, anyone who knows basketball knows that the team that controls the pace is usually the team that is more likely to win. When you control the pace the other team is forced to step outside their comfort zone and try to play at your speed and if you’re playing at the other teams pace you’re essentially fighting against the current. Not a place you want to be.

Additionally, most good teams actually have guys that can create their own shots (Newsflash Danny, we could use a couple of those). Use the Mavs as an example. When the Celtics slowed the pace down, it allowed the Mavs to do the same and set up their offense and start running their plays. Now the Celtics can break down and stop these plays from coming to fruition, but then the Mavs have guys like Dirk, Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, and Chandler Parsons who can take the ball and make something out of nothing, even if the set play didn’t work. The Celtics on the other hand? They have ONE guy that can consistently create his own shot and that’s Isaiah Thomas. So sure they can run the double screen to the right side with Olynyk and Amir, have both bigs dive to the rim and even have Crowder or Smart spot up at the top of the key for a three, but if those options don’t work, the offensive burden lies solely on Thomas’ shoulders. Luckily, Thomas has the talent to actually score and keep the C’s offense afloat, but when it gets that one dimensional, it’s easy for other teams to stop.

On the other hand, when the C’s started to crank up the tempo and played with a sense of urgency, for whatever reason good things happened. They clearly took control in the third quarter when they started to run and with every made basket it seemed as if they were playing with more confidence and dare I say, swagger. Isaiah was blowing by guys and screaming and flexing after every made layup or with every foul the Mavs were forced to commit to try to stop the bleeding. (Side note, I need the screaming/flexing and that level of intensity and the “You can’t guard me” attitude from Isaiah every. Single. Night. Need it.) According to Dirk, the Celtics talked trash and got “chippy” while they surged back into the game. Neither team looked like they liked each other, they weren’t friends, it was a battle and that’s how every Celtics game needs to be, period. That is Celtic basketball and more importantly that is Boston basketball. Be the aggressors, be the bullies, talk shit to the other team and flex on them when you score. That’s our identity. We’re a tough, “grind-it-out” type team. We thrive when they run and push the ball and honestly we thrive when the game gets sloppy, which I know, is a weird thing to say but I really think it’s true. That stretch against the Mavs wasn’t pretty, there were tons of turnovers on both ends, a lot of fouls, missed shots and layups, but we got the better of a Mavericks team that couldn’t keep up on defense and was forced to rush things on offense. We scratched and clawed our way back into that game, our sloppiness/chaos rubbed off on the Mavs and all of a sudden they were jacking up quick shots and playing out of their comfort zone, which played right into ours. If I were Brad, I would tell them to play like they did during that stretch night in and night out, right from the tip-off. I know at some point, you have to slow the pace down especially when trying to close out a game, but if you’re blowing the other team out, there’s no reason to let off the gas pedal. Yes, I’m saying the Celtics could blow teams out if they played with that pace and intensity all game. So here’s my plea to Stevens, just run. Run the other team out of the building every night then run some more. I’ll even do Brad one better, instead of pleading, here’s three reasons why we CAN and SHOULD run all night long, every single night.

1) We have the depth and personnel. Our depth is something I talked about a lot in the off-season but haven’t brought up much lately because up until now I honestly thought it was hurting us. at times the depth was tricky because it was hard for Brad to figure out rotations and even harder for the players to get in solid rhythms with limited minutes. BUT, if they were to come right out and push the ball right from the start, all of a sudden the depth becomes a luxury. Fresh legs all night. Not to mention the fact that we have about 3-4 of the same exact guys at every position. Smart and Bradley are interchangeable and have the ability to cover just about every position off switches. Turner and Crowder give you the same versatility and Turner could even be your point guard at 6’7″. Olynyk, Jerebko, Johnson, Sully, and even Lee (If he ever gets another shot) can all play at either position down low and are athletic enough to switch onto smaller guys when Brad decides to switch everything on D. Everyone is athletic enough to run the floor and the different lineup possibilities are just about endless.

2) If you haven’t noticed by now, we get easier shots when we get out and run. First off, it’s harder for defenders to locate their man in all the commotion when we’re constantly running. The second important factor in this is that even our bigs can run the floor, which is a pretty big deal, especially when you have passers like Thomas, Smart, and Turner that can thread the needle when Jerebko or Olynyk slips behind the D in transition. Not to mention the fact that Jared Sullinger is probably one of the best outlet passers I’ve seen. Last but certainly not least, Thomas is deadly in the fast break and can create simple shots for himself and his teammates simply by running. If you watched the other night, there were points where Thomas would get the ball and just run to the basket. His speed gives him the ability to beat just about anyone to the rim, which gave him easy layup after easy layup. There was a certain moment when the Mavs realized this and had no better option than to just foul him, giving him free throws; the easiest shots in the game. If they couldn’t foul him, the entire defense was forced to collapse on him leaving trailers wide open around the three-point arc.

3) The last reason I think the Celtics are better off running all game, is the fact that we really lack that “go-to guy.” Don’t get me wrong, Isaiah is our go-to guy but unfortunately he’s 5’9″ (if that) and as good as he is, it’s tough to create your own shot at that size when everyone in the arena knows you’re getting the ball. To put it simply, there’s really only so much he can do for us. When you get out in transition, there’s less of a need for a go-to guy. Instead, everyone can just focus on playing basketball. The game seems to flow better, the ball moves a little better, and they get open shots. When you’re getting open shots, you don’t necessarily need one guy that’s going to go out there and be “the guy.” That being said, the lack of a superstar is clearly our glaring hole and we still need one desperately, but for the time being, running could be the short-term answer.