Another Night of Elite Ball Movement Leads C's to Another Blowout Win
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics have been in a helping mood over the past week at TD Garden.
On Wednesday night, they dished out a season-high 34 assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Two nights later, they one-upped that performance with a 35-dime effort against the Dallas Mavericks. Then on Monday night, they took their passing game to an even higher level, handing out 37 helpers against the Brooklyn Nets for their highest assist total since dishing out 37 against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 27, 2017.
The theme of assists has brought about another trend over the last three games: blowout wins.
Boston mauled the Wolves, 115-102. It galloped past the Mavs, 114-93. And finally, it swished the Nets, 116-95.
“We’re moving the ball, moving the bodies, just trying to create opportunities for one another to make it easier,” said Kyrie Irving, who contributed six assists Monday night.
The Celtics haven’t made it look this easy from a ball movement standpoint for many years. The last time they dished out at least 34 assists in three consecutive games was during the 1989-90 season, according to Basketball Reference.
Such offensive cohesion wasn’t consistently present during the first couple months of this season, but the C’s say that their developing chemistry is allowing them to find a better rhythm as a unit.
“The beginning of the year wasn’t so kind to us, and we fixed it,” said Marcus Smart, who led the game with seven dimes. “We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s going in the right direction. And it’s been fun for us. Everybody’s enjoying it, enjoying the process of working and getting better.”
Added Marcus Morris, “I think a part of learning to play together, that’s just something that’s going to come. But if the ball is moving, I think everyone is going to get enough opportunities to do what they do to make the defense collapse. We just find the right guy, get it to him. It’s easy basketball.”
Over the last three games, the Celtics have assisted on a whopping 79.1 percent of their made field goals. That is nearly 14 percentage points higher than Philadelphia’s league-leading mark for the season.
What has helped Boston to achieve such a high rate is that it is playing what Stevens refers to as “point-five basketball.” This is when a player, upon receiving a pass, will take no more than half a second to decide whether he’s going drive it, shoot it, or pass it off again.
“We’re trying to get better at executing, playing together, reading things that are options in transition, playing faster while doing that – and while hopefully taking care of the ball, which we did at times tonight,” said Stevens. “If we continue to prioritize playing together, we should get better.”
Another positive that comes with playing point-five basketball is that allows all players to get involved in the passing game. That was reflected in Monday night’s box score, as six different Celtics dished out four or more assists, while no one handed out more than seven.
“Guys are moving the ball at an exceptional rate,” said Smart. “We’re scoring it, we’re getting to the spots where we want to be, and everybody is feeling happy.”
Boston will look to keep the ball moving Wednesday night against an Indiana Pacers team that has surrendered 30 assists in each of its last two games. Who knows, maybe the C’s will establish another season-high passing mark in the process.