Friday, January 21, 2011 Updated: January 22, 1:07 PM ET
Celtics school Jazz in passing game
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- The Utah Jazz know a thing or two about ball movement. They entered Friday's game ranked second in the NBA in assists per game (24.0), second only to the Boston Celtics (24.6) team they were visiting.
Boston proceeded to put on a passing clinic as the Celtics assisted on 31 of 37 field goals -- a whopping 83.8 percent of their total buckets, their best percentage of the season -- while racing to a lopsided 110-86 triumph at TD Garden.
Jerry Sloan -- head coach of the Jazz since Rajon Rondo was 2 years old, and someone who presided over nearly the entire John Stockton era -- could only shake his head as he said with a sigh afterward, "Well, they showed us what basketball is like tonight."
Rajon Rondo had 10 of his game-high 12 assists against the Jazz in the first half.
Before Friday's game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Boston needed to play a "speed" game in order for his team, especially Rondo, to thrive. The much-ballyhooed matchup between Rondo and Deron Williams fizzled early when Utah's star guard picked up two fouls in less than four minutes and retreated to the bench.
And Boston pounced, the ball zipping around the court with NASCAR-like velocity. The Celtics assisted on 18 of their 20 first-half field goals, building an 18-point cushion, and then set the car on cruise control until the checkered flag.
Six different players scored during a key 14-2 burst in the first quarter that showcased Boston's unselfish ball movement. A one-possession game before the spurt, the Celtics boasted a 15-point cushion after back-to-back trifectas by Paul Pierce and Nate Robinson with 3:20 to play in the first frame.
"I think that it has something to do with us being together and working on it and believing the system," said Pierce, who scored 13 of his 20 points in the first quarter and enjoyed a breezy 26-minute night on the first game of a back-to-back. "The guys that we have out there are an unselfish group. We are constantly making the extra pass, constantly moving the ball. When we do that, we are a tough team to beat. That's how we shoot a high percentage.
"It's just a product of our work. Every day we come in here and that's what we work on. We work on making the passes, running our offense. Believing in one another, not caring who gets the credit. When you have a selfless group like this, that's what happens."
Rondo dished out a team-high 12 assists, 10 of which came before the intermission. Marquis Daniels added six more on a gimpy ankle to fuel an inspired bench effort (52 points). Overall, eight different players registered assists for Boston.
"We've been very efficient," Ray Allen said. "Guys move the ball around. We've just been thinking about execution starting off games. Fourth-quarter execution has been great, but starting off games, moving the ball around, that's the most important thing."
The Celtics generated nine assists for 10 field goals in that first frame. The only bucket that didn't generate an assist came when Pierce purposely tipped a jump ball in the direction of Rondo, who streaked in alone for a layup.
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In the first 72 seconds of the game, Shaquille O'Neal assisted on a Pierce layup before Allen fed Pierce for a 22-foot jumper for the game's first two baskets. The Celtics never trailed and the assist party didn't stop until Gino, the American Bandstand dancer who bops his way through the final moments of Boston's lopsided home wins, grooved onto the JumboTron with Boston up 20 with 2:59 remaining.
"It all starts with ball movement and trust," Rivers said. "I think our guys really have done a better job this year, even. Each year, they've gotten better in getting the ball to Rondo early off of rebounds and running their lanes. And we execute on our offense but we also try to strike in transition more this year, and I think that's been a theme. We really stressed that [Thursday] in practice, and you can see the residual effects."
For a team that's rooted in its defense, the Celtics are now shooting an NBA-best 50.7 percent for the season. How in the world does an opponent beat a team that allows a league-low 92.1 points per game and shoots better than 5 percent above the league average?
The way Allen sees it, that's not his problem to solve.
"You think about the things that don't go the way we want them to go all the time, but we all still manage to keep our head and move the ball around," Allen said. "We make sure we know what we're trying to get from every opportunity. Some nights, we don't make shots but we rely on our defense, as well."
So when both Boston's offense and defense were clicking, Sloan was simply thankful Rivers called off the dogs.
"Give them credit for how they came out and got after us," Sloan said. "They were good in their offense, getting the kind of shots they wanted and the kind that they can make. Doc was pretty generous not keeping his players out there, letting us breathe a little bit, I guess."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter