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Rajon Rondo and the Celtics want to push the tempo this season.Celtics head coach Doc Rivers hasn't been bashful about his desire to mix-and-match the many versatile players he has at his disposal this preseason. Consider this the test phase, with the goal being a strong understanding of what does and doesn't work by the time the regular season begins later this month.
One facet of this Celtics team that has worked very well of late -- particularly this past week -- is the production in transition, as the C's haven't been shy about streaking out on the fast break to get themselves easier baskets.
"I like our speed. I like our pace of play," Rivers said after practice last week. "That's something we have to increase this year. We have to get more shots up at the basket this year, and I think we're going to do that."
Boston showed how it might go about doing that on Tuesday, in a 97-96 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Though the C's fell in the final minutes when the regular rotation players were removed, up until that point they had been making a strong effort to score in transition, evidenced by their 17 fast-break points. The likes of Jeff Green and Courtney Lee joined in with Rajon Rondo to do, in part, what they were brought in to do: Utilize their athleticism to make Boston more formidable on the break.
"We want to get up and down the floor," Green said after Tuesday's game. "We've got guys who can get up and down the floor -- myself, Courtney, Rondo, especially. We've got to use that to the best of our abilities, so whenever we get a stop, we've got to get up the floor and try to get easy buckets."
Added Lee, who scored 13 points Tuesday: "On the offensive end, Rondo was doing a good job of getting deep outlets and pushing the tempo and the guards were doing a good job of getting out and running and the bigs were doing a good job of running the floor. If we can get easy buckets in transition, that's only going to help us."
While the Celtics did elect for a more organized brand of half-court offense at times on Tuesday -- especially when Kevin Garnett was playing -- that game was a strong example of their ability to shuffle around personnel to go from a set-run team to a group on the run, with Rondo orchestrating the majority of the proceedings.
"Our versatility and ability to play different styles is going to be our strong suit," said Jason Terry. "We went with a bigger lineup where we're pounding the ball inside to KG, and he went to work. And then, once we made the substitution, we went a little smaller, started to pick up the pace. It looked good. It looked good there for stretches. And now the main thing for us is putting it together for 48 minutes of good, solid basketball."
The closest Boston has come to that 48-minute effort was Thursday's 115-85 lopsided victory over the same Brooklyn team, playing with its regular rotation players this time. While there will be statistics available during the regular season that can determine if Boston has indeed increased its pace of play from seasons past, for now, consider the 85 field goals the Celtics attempted on Thursday. The figure was far and away a preseason high, and it came in part because of Boston's willingness to get out on the break.
Rivers, serious about his desire for his team to take more shots this season, will likely refer back to Thursday's game to illustrate to his club how it can happen. Running off of made baskets is certainly possible, but on Thursday, the C's relied on what should be their best trait this season to help produce those extra looks at the rim: defense. The Celtics forced 19 Brooklyn turnovers, which they converted into 27 points of their own. They stole the ball 12 times, with three of the Nets' first four possessions marred by Boston swipes. Often, those defensive stands resulted in fast-break opportunities, particularly early on, which is how the Celtics built a 9-0 lead 1 minute and 16 seconds into the game. As a team, Boston came through with 16 transition points. Lee, who had four steals of his own, was a one-man fast break at times, responsible for the swipe, the full-court run, and the easy layup.
"With all the scoring we have, if we get stops, we're going to score," Rivers said following Thursday's game. "We're going to score in transition more, we're going to score in a lot of different ways and you can see that tonight."