Celtics’ Trademark Tempo Becomes Difference-Maker In Win Over Knicks

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BOSTON — If NBA games ever reverted to the half-court, “check up” affairs found in local gyms and playgrounds, the Celtics would be in big trouble.

The Celtics play at one of the fastest paces in the league, trailing only the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors with an average of 101.4 possessions per 48 minutes.

But the caveat to Boston’s breakneck speed is that the team often struggles in halfcourt sets. That much was evident Friday against the reeling New York Knicks, as the Celtics failed to find an offensive rhythm while not pushing the pace, connecting on just 39 percent (28 for 72) of their 75 non-fast break points.

“We’re a team where we need easy baskets,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We can’t sit in the half court and try to figure things out there. We need to get out and run.”

So how did the C’s manage to pull off a 105-104 win over the Knicks? By doing just that: Running. Boston poured in 30 fast-break points to New York’s four, including six in the fourth quarter as part of an epic 13-4 run that stole a victory from the Knicks’ grasp.

“We got stops, we got out and ran,” said Thomas, who scored a game-high 32 points. “That’s the thing we want to do, is get easy baskets, and that starts with getting stops. And it starts with me pushing the ball. Misses or makes, we’ve got to push the ball, try to get into something, because sometimes you can walk into layups, because guys aren’t engaged on that end of the floor.”

As Celtics swingman Jae Crowder pointed out, the Knicks’ style of basketball made them particularly vulnerable to the break.

“The floor was unbalanced the whole night against that triangle offense,” Crowder said. “They had a lot of guys below the free throw line, and that gives us an opportunity to get out and run.”

Crowder would know, as six of his nine made baskets in his 20-point effort came on fast-break layups. He had Jared Sullinger to thank for his last two, as the Celtics big man hit Crowder with two perfect, long-distance outlet passes over a span of a minute to help Boston pull within one point with 1:32 remaining.

“He knows I’m always taking off,” Crowder said of Sullinger. “If I contest the shot, I’m going to take off and expect him or one of our bigs to clean up. He’s just being aware. He knows I’m there.”

The Celtics’ occasional ineffectiveness in halfcourt play is cause for mild concern, but the good news is Boston doesn’t much enjoy playing with its foot off the gas. That dedication to running makes for some exciting basketball, and, in recent games, plenty of winning.

Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) dribbles the ball against the New York Knicks during the second half at TD Garden.
Celtics forward Jae Crowder
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