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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Justin Quinn

The Boston Celtics-centric history of ‘walking the dog’

The Boston Celtics have revived an old tradition they helped develop all the way back in the heyday of the team in the 1960s — and opposing ball clubs are not so crazy about it. If you have not yet guessed, we are talking about walking the dog — and no, Dennis Schroder was not on the team back then.

The funky practice of rolling the ball up the court to keep the game clock from starting before it is picked up was not brought to the Celtics by the German point guard who used the strategy liberally in his sole season with Boston. Instead, it was popularized by Red Auerbach’s Celtics in Hall of Fame big man Bill Russell’s prime.

In a recent article by ESPN’s Ben Dowsett tracing the roots of the practice that bothered Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon enough to get a technical foul by trying to stop Marcus Smart and Grant Williams from doing it, Dowsett connected that moment with the Celtics of yore.

“With about five minutes left, … Gordon slammed a two-handed dunk to pull the Nuggets within 13,” writes the ESPN analyst.

“As Gordon jogged back on defense, Al Horford rolled the ball to Jayson Tatum so slowly that it completely stopped before his own free throw line. As Tatum stood alongside the ball, Horford and … Williams guarded him like linemen blocking for a running back. Nuggets coaches called for Gordon to force Tatum to pick the ball up. Gordon barreled through Williams so hard that he was called for a flagrant.”

“Williams missed his two free throws, but the foul call crushed the Nuggets’ momentum, and the Celtics won easily,” Dowsett added.

The origin of the practice, per the author, was a “problem” solved by Russell.

“One of the most dominant centers in NBA history wanted as much time as possible to operate in the post, where he worked as the primary conduit for Boston’s offense. So on inbound plays, Celtics backcourt mates K.C. Jones and Sam Jones would let the basketball roll past half court, especially when the Celtics played from behind — saving time on the shot clock, which in turn freed up time to feed the ball to Russell.”

“‘They were way ahead of the times,’ says Jim Barnett, a forward who played on the Celtics in 1966-67 and went on to become a TV analyst,” suggested Barnett.

“‘They got maybe an extra four, five seconds in the backcourt before they touched the ball, and then they had a little extra time to operate.'”

Letting Russell go to work in the post has proven one of the most devastating strategies devised in league history given his ability to find open teammates while also positioning himself to gobble up boards.

And while Boston (and most teams) may lack a true analog, both Robert Williams III and Al Horford are able enough passers that the Celtics of today might learn a thing or two by incorporating such an approach into how they walk the dog in a more guard-and-perimeter oriented attack.

Listen to the “Celtics Lab” podcast on:

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