Did we witness the Celtics’ best first quarter of the season?

11 August 2013, game 21 of the NBA 2013/14 season: a brief moment in a long 82-game season that should be treasured.

Today’s first quarter against the Nuggets has encapsulated some of the most beautiful basketball we’ve seen from this season’s Celtics so far. The C’s performed brilliantly on offense and defense, kicking the game off with a 39-15 scoreline. Considering how the average score per NBA quarter usually hovers about the 25-point mark, a 24-point lead only happens with the help of several contributing factors.

So, what actually happened?

Sharing the rock

The ball was moving decisively. Spacing was good, passing lanes were visible without guys being obviously marooned. There was a concerted effort to get the ball into the post, which further improved spacing at the perimeter, which led to open shots and so on. You’re not going to get an assist if your teammate starts pounding the ball all by himself, andthen abruptly pulls up for a shot in a show of one-on-one prowess. If nothing else, the 10 assists notched in this quarter are an indicator of selfless team passing.

The passing obviously helped Avery’s shooting a great deal. Ever since his reversion to the 2 guard, he has regained his former confidence on defense, and is an absolute gunner on offense these days. Check out his shot chart so far. (Green denotes a shooting % above the league average.)

Avery Bradley's shot chart as at 11 Aug 2013 - from stats.nba.com
Avery Bradley’s shot chart as at 11 Aug 2013 – from stats.nba.com

While he hasn’t been a Ray Allen clone on the three balls, he’s been burying the long 2’s at an amazingly efficient rate. Give AB a high screen, and he’s ready to make that one dribble to the side, get some space and pull the trigger. Either that, or he’s cutting without the ball to get open shots, something we all know he’s always been good at. Cutting however, is useless without the right pass being made. It points out once more that good passing is being established, which in turn gives the guys their open shots.

Defensive rebounding

Best of all, we saw the rebounding. Brilliant, brilliant defensive rebounding. The new Celtics are not a hulking team like the Detroit Pistons (our starting center is a 6’9″ Jared Sullinger; an average NBA center’s height would be closer to 6″11′), but under Brad Stevens’ direction, there has been a visible and intense focus on team rebounding, especially on the guards helping to corral defensive boards. We see this in action, especially when top rebounders for the game in the first quarter were Avery Bradley (4) and Jordan Crawford (4). 15 total rebounds for the team, with 8 taken by your guards. I have to say, that’s a solid sign of team rebounding in action. Your big men box opposing bigs out, and the guards are free to charge in and nab them loose balls.

“… And it’s good that our guards rebound, because they need to rebound for us to win. – Brad Stevens, Jordan Crawford nets triple-double as Boston Celtics pound Cleveland Cavaliers: ‘Jordan Crawford had 11 rebounds?’ Brad Stevens quips

Apart from defensive rebounding, the overall defense has been solid effort, especially transition defense. No open layups!

Staying careful

We ended the first quarter with only one turnover. ONE. TURNOVER. Let that sink in for a bit. That solitary TO came early in the game from a bad JC pass, who lobbed a pass to a waiting Sully on the block but rifled it a tad too high, which ended up flying out of bounds.

Crawford TO pass to Sully
Crawford TO pass to Sully

Not a live ball TO, no transition. Lesser impact, especially when we’re talking about a fast-paced team like Denver.

On a Celtics team where we have been used to seeing double-digit TOs every single game, having only ONE bloody turnover in 12 minutes shows just how crisp and well-directed the ball movement was. Badly co-ordinated passes lead to turnovers. Stagnant ball movement leads to turnovers. Aggressive defense leads to turnovers.  If you want to stay pessimistic though, put the blame on how awful the Denver defense was at disrupting the offense.

That being said, the team’s averaging 16.2 TOs so far, unlike last season when the C’s made 14.5 TOs per game. While this ugly number is putting them at only rank 26 in the league, there’s definitely room for improvement in this area.

Of course, we had a lot of help from Denver in their decidedly awful shooting and bad luck, but credit must be given where it’s due. The Celtics played well, and while no one’s holding their breath for this to happen every night, it is most definitely a silver lining moment for a young team finding its identity under a new coach, when they manage to pull out twelve minutes of splendid basketball like this.


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