They moved the ball as if it were on fire. They zipped it around so fast the orange sphere almost left a vapor trail. The Kings couldn’t keep up.
“That’s the way we need to play,” Paul Pierce said after the Celtics’ 99-81 drubbing of Sacramento at TD Garden. “We’ve been up and down with it all season, but moving forward, this is definitely the way we have to play.”
Nobody had the ball for more than a couple of seconds, if that. The Celtics zoomed the ball up the court with one long pass on nearly every possession, and in their half-court set, each player whizzed the rock around until they got an an easy, open look.
The result: The Celtics shot 53 percent (39 of 73) from the floor and 10 players scored, including six in double figures, led by 16 from Pierce.
This was the Celtics’ first game since learning that Rajon Rondo would be out for the season with a torn ligament in his right knee, and this is apparently the style fans can now expect.
The Celtics aren’t trying to replace their All-Star point guard with a one-man performance from someone new. Instead, it’s a collective effort, with several players stepping up to fill the hole Rondo’s absence leaves behind.
“For the majority of the time, we’re going to have to spread it out, do it by committee,” Jason Terry said. “Collectively as a group, that’s how we have to win.”
The Celtics led by as many as 28 in a contest that never really seemed to be in question after the second quarter, when the Celtics outscored the Kings, 37-14, and hit 14 consecutive shots, putting the game out of reach.
It was during that stretch that the Celtics really kicked it into another gear.
“It’s just easier for us if we can get into our stuff quicker,” Doc Rivers said. “We just advanced it at the pass, we got early posts for Kevin [Garnett], had some quick layups, easy baskets, that’s what we have to do.”
The new up-tempo style was also popular with the players, who not only looked happy during the game but couldn’t stop gabbing about the scheme after it was over.
Terry, for one, is a big fan of this style.
“It’s been an adjustment for me, playing in this system,” said the guard, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench, “but I’m getting more and more comfortable and again, with this style that we’re playing now, I think it’s a little more conducive to my game.”
The most noticeable aspect of the win was how Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee worked in tandem while playing on the perimeter.
“I thought the pressure that Courtney and Avery put on the guards at the beginning of the game really set the tone,” said Garnett, who finished with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.
From a defensive standpoint, both Lee and Bradley were pesky toward the Kings’ guards.
“And when I’m pressuring a guy and I get tired, Courtney can pressure,” said Bradley, who had 11 points. “He complements me a lot. He’s a great player, a great teammate.”
But when the Celtics went to inbound the ball and begin an offensive possession, Bradley or Lee would go fetch it — and they did so while practically sprinting up the court.
“That’s one thing that me and Courtney told each other before the game,” Bradley said. “We said, ‘Get it and go.’ That’s what we were doing. We were getting it, passing it up. That’s how we have to play. It’s hard to play a team like that. That’s how Miami plays. A lot of teams play like that. It’s hard to beat a team like that.”
“With Rondo, he’s capable of getting the ball and breaking any one-man pressure or press,” Lee said. “Without Rondo, we have to do that to beat the pressure: push the ball up the court, throw up ahead, and try to attack early.”
Bradley likened the scheme to one seen in another sport.
“I guess you could say, a soccer team,” he explained. “Everybody touches the ball and when everybody touches the ball, they all get a feel — and it’s hard to stop a team when everybody is making shots and everybody has confidence.”
Overall, Bradley called this win a “blueprint” for how the Celtics have to win from now on. The next test is for them to repeat the result it produced.