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Don't Expect Fast-Breaks Against Boston

In their Game 1 victory, the Miami HEAT beat the Boston Celtics for just 10 fast-break points on nine transition possessions. Considering they averaged almost 14 points out in the open floor and a full six extra transition possessions during the regular season, coupled with Erik Spoelstra’s emphasis on his team playing to its identity – speed, aggressiveness and athleticism – and Boston’s above-average tendencies toward turnovers, it’s natural to think that Miami could have more relief baskets in its future.

But we also have to consider that more than any other team in the league, the Celtics emphasize transition defense over anything else. That alone should give cause to temper expectations.

Doc Rivers’ strategy is simple, and it’s been in place for years: de-prioritize the offensive glass – nobody grabbed fewer second-chances than Boston (7.8 per game and rebounds on just 19.7 percent of misses) – and send bodies that would normally be chasing extra scoring opportunities back on defense.

The result hasn’t exactly meant fantastic transition defense, with Synergy Sports ranking the Celtics as a below-average defensive team against fast-breaks (where luck is a factor). Rather, Rivers’ scheme ensures that it’s the transition opportunities that are limited. Only two teams, the Phildelphia 76ers (who never turn the ball over) and Orlando Magic (whose spread offense lends itself to keeping defenders back), allowed fewer than Boston’s 795 transition possessions (12 per game) during the regular season.

Some of this is a result of Boston’s identity. Like Philadelphia, the Celtics take a ton of mid-range jumpers, and many of those come from their starting frontcourt of Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett. Just as you see with Chris Bosh when he plays at the elbow, Bass and Garnett typically don’t start rebounding possessions with great position after they’ve been pick-and-popping around the perimeter, as you see here.

Rajon Rondo has the green light to hunt for offensive rebounds, but for the most part, if a Celtic isn’t already deep in the paint, they’ll either start backpedaling on defense or, at most, wait around for a bounce that goes long, as the Celtics did here:

But what will happen fairly often is that, when LeBron James pulls down a rebound or Mario Chalmers receives the short outlet pass, this is what the formerly-offensive side of the floor looks like.

None of this precludes Miami from running. With James and Dwyane Wade, along with the constant urging from Spoelstra to push the ball, the team won’t stop attacking. It becomes much more difficult to run off misses, though, which is a big part of Miami playing to its identity. They’ll be more reliant on live-ball turnovers, such as the one that led to a first-half James dunk and another dunk for Mario Chalmers in the second half, and riskier, home-run plays like Wade’s full-court assist to James. Fast-breaks always require a little luck to get the most efficient opportunities, and the HEAT’s transition opportunities are going to rely slightly more on Lady Fortune.

Where you might see Miami getting a little more offense is in its secondary break. When at least three defenders are constantly back so early, you end up with an offense still in transition, in motion, attacking a defense waiting to pick-up the appropriate match-ups. That’s how you end up with an open three from Shane Battier, or Wade taking advantage of a standing Ray Allen with the paint open.

Even when fast-breaks are stifled and Boston’s excellent defense picks up on all secondary actions, the benefit of all of this is that Miami, which relies heavily on “smaller” lineups with James and Battier defending power forwards, doesn’t have to deal with nearly as much pressure on the defensive glass. If you fall asleep in comfort, Rondo will take advantage, but a Miami defensive stop is going to turn into a Miami offensive possession more often than not.