The Celtics have a pretty simple philosophy when it comes to game tempo: They want to keep their opponent out of transition so that they can set their defense up in the half court, ideally force their opponent into a bad shot, rebound the ball, and create transition opportunities for themselves.
Though there wasn't a glaring difference in fast-break points between Boston and Los Angeles Thursday night (15-12 in favor of the Clippers), the C's got a taste of their own medicine, as they were the ones who couldn't get the stops needed to generate fast-break opportunities, and they were the ones who settled for too many of the poor outside shots they typically want their opponents to take. Boston took just 15 total free throws to L.A.'s 24, and scored 26 points in the paint to the Clippers' 42.
Boston shot just 40.3 percent for the game, while allowing L.A. to connect on 48.2 percent of its looks. The Celtics' inability to get stops actually fueled the Clippers' productivity in the same area. And by being able to make shots, retreat, and set their own defense up in the half court, the Clippers routinely put themselves in a better position to generate fast-break chances.
"I just thought we never played it with any pace, personally," Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters in Los Angeles. "We wanted to run, too. We couldn't; they made every shot. And they made a lot of shots. Blake [Griffin] made three or four shots on the perimeter, which, honestly, we'd live with all of those, even if he makes them. But, you know, they were shooting 54 percent at halftime and when you let a team shoot that well and they get to set their defense every single time down the floor, then they're probably going to have a good defensive night."
L.A. basically beat Boston at its own game on Thursday, but the Celtics will have to be much more cognizant of their defensive effort against the up-and-coming Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. Unlike the Clippers, who, believe it or not, play at just below a league-average pace and might not run as often as you'd expect, the Warriors rank in the top 10 in possessions per 48 minutes (95.6) but also boast a very productive defense, so they can generate the extra possessions they need while limiting their opponent on the other end.
While it seems overly simple to say the Celtics need to play great defense on Saturday, they do need to do a much better job of adhering to their own desired formula. They need to establish their brand of playing early on, smother the Warriors on the defensive end, and establish a steady offensive rhythm of their own. By initially executing their offense in the half-court setting, Boston, as it likes to do, will be able to retreat, set up its defense on the other end, let that take over, and put itself in a better position to create easier transition opportunities.
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