The NBA began tracking fast-break points during the 1996-97 season, giving it featured placement at the bottom of each game's official box score. It's not easy to find an official definition of the metric, though the long-held understanding is it measures points generated in the first six seconds of the shot clock after a defensive stop.
Boston, which entered the game ranked third in the league with an average of 17.1 fast-break points per game, didn't generate a single fast-break point against the Heat. The Celtics missed all three shot attempts generated on fast-break chances and saw their season average dive by 0.7 points.
Given that the Celtics just traded away an All-Star point guard noted for his ability to generate points in transition, you'll hear plenty of groans about Boston's fast-break goose egg on Sunday. But all the statistic does is hammer home how Boston fell victim to Miami's typically plodding pace and did little to generate the ball movement that the shorthanded Heat did in halfcourt sets to create their own scoring opportunities.
Rookie Marcus Smart, making his first pro start at point guard, will be scrutinized, though it's worth noting that none of Boston's ball-handlers were able to give the team any jolt on Sunday (all while Phil Pressey drew a healthy DNP as newcomer Jameer Nelson bit into the point guard minutes). The Celtics were fumble-happy out of the gates on Sunday and never quite recovered from their sloppy start.
"I didn’t feel that we kept up with their speed all day," Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Miami. "I thought that we looked a step behind all day. Credit them; they were flying off of everything. Sometimes, as we talked about before, when you’re missing a ‘go-to’ kind of guy like they were in [Dwyane] Wade and [Chris] Bosh, the other guys are flying all over the place. I thought we got hit by that and I’m not sure that we responded with that the entire night.
"Obviously, the ball was whipping around, and they played a really good style of basketball. Then I thought that it affected us on [offense]. I thought that we missed some plays at the rim and some open shots because we were so uncomfortable. I thought that they played great. There’s no question that we need to get more fluid in what we’re doing, especially with rotations, the new guys and all that other stuff, but all of it was to do with [the Heat]. Turnovers in general killed us. We didn’t react to their speed and aggressiveness on either end of the court."
Boston's inability to generate easy points clearly was an issue. The Heat own one of the worst transition defenses in the league, ranking 28th while allowing 1.2 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. The Heat clearly put an emphasis on getting bodies back and forced Boston into halfcourt sets, where it struggled to get much going beyond feeding Tyler Zeller (team-high 22 points) around the basket. (Boston ranks third in the league in points in the paint.)
Go ahead and blame Boston's attempt to integrate three new faces acquired from Dallas in the Rajon Rondo swap, but even when those most familiar with the team's playbook were on the court, the Celtics struggled to generate easy scoring opportunities.
There's going to be a learning curve while Smart learns how to be a playmaker at the NBA level. He finished with three points on 1-of-4 shooting (all 3-point attempts) with four assists, four rebounds and two turnovers in 28 minutes, 25 seconds of court time. With Smart on the floor, Boston's offensive rating was a dismal (and team-worst) 85.8 points per 100 possessions. There will be growing pains with Smart at the point.
Smart needed only 12 seconds to generate his first assist of the day, then had a trio of nice feeds to Zeller later in the game, including a nice transition find after a make early in the third quarter.
But the Celtics didn't push the ball enough to generate the opportunities this offense so desperately needs. And the fast-break points help reflect that.
As could be expected, all three -- with little more than 48 hours of exposure to the team's playbook -- looked out of sync and might have contributed to Boston's disrupted flow at times.
"They were fine; I thought they were solid," Stevens said of the newcomers. "It’s hard to play in this deal one day after getting here, and your world is kind of shook up. I thought that they did a lot of good things, and I think that there’s a lot that we can improve on. There’s going to be some time before they feel as fluid as they can. Everyday should be a little bit better, but it’s going to take some time."
Wright had the best night of the newcomers, chipping in six points on 3-of-5 shooting with three rebounds over 13:24.
"The time has been limited, but we are professionals," Wright said. "We know what to do. We have to come out here and do the best we can. I look forward to getting better each and every game."
He refused to pin any of the team's struggles on integrating new faces.
"I don’t want to use that as an excuse," Wright offered. "Like I said, we are professionals and we have to adjust on the fly. There are a lot of things that happen during the season. Guys come and go. We played hard, but we just came up short."