Happy New Year everyone! It’s that time of year to renew the gym membership, go on a diet and tell yourself you are going to be more productive this year. Well just like many people have their New Year’s Resolutions, I have a very simple one for this Celtics team. Let’s get back to that elite level defense.
Let’s begin by comparing this Celtics defense to last years:
Def Rtg: 100.9(5th in the NBA)
Opponents points per game: 102.5(13th in the NBA)
SPG: 9.2(2nd in the NBA)
PIP: 43.0(14th in the NBA)
Def Rtg: 105.4(19th in the NBA)
Opponents points per game: 104.3(15th in the NBA)
SPG: 7.8(15th in the NBA)
PIP: 41.9(11th in the NBA)
This Celtics team has taken major steps backwards on the defensive end. They aren’t quite making life as hard for opposing teams and they aren’t forcing turnovers at the same rate either. Both of these things have been the calling card for this team’s defense and this slip has become evident in their struggles against the NBAs elite teams. Rebounds and execution have also been huge issues for this Celtics team. Last season the Celtics averaged 44.9 rebounds a game (6th in the NBA). This year they are averaging 41.3(29th in the NBA). People seem to underestimate the value of rebounding and its impact on the defensive end of the floor. Not only is it now allowing the team to get second chance points but it allows the other team to get out and run on the fast break. The Celtics aren’t going to turn into a great rebounding team overnight but they certainly can improve from how anemic they are right now. Oh and it also helps the Celtics are 8-0 when they out rebound the opposing team. Poor execution is another problem I have with this team defensively. As hard as this team plays on defense they still struggle execution wise. Too many times we see this team look confused defensively. Guys getting beat on back door cuts, not being on the same page in pick and roll coverage; all of this stuff has little to do with talent but more to do with attention to detail. I want the Celtics to continue to play hard on defense but they also need to be smarter. Great defenses aren’t made by one or two players they are made by a team all being on the same page. The Celtics need to reach that point. Let’s take a look at returning players for Boston and their individual defensive performances this year:
Celtics key returning players defensive rating: 2015-2016/2016-2017
Isaiah Thomas: 102.6/ 109.1
Avery Bradley: 102.9/109.4
Jae Crowder: 101.4/103.6
Amir Johnson: 101.3/105.2
Marcus Smart: 100.2/102.9
All of Boston’s key players have taken a step back on the defensive end. Now let me state two things before I go on with this. First, I understand how Thomas needs to be hidden on defense. He is usually guarding the second best guard on the other team. I also understand that Bradley and Smart are tasked with guarding the best guard on the opposing team. With that out of the way we still can’t overlook the drop-off from all parties for this Celtics team. None of them are doing quite as well on the defensive end and it is impacting the Celtics against the NBA’s best teams. My biggest call out in this section will be Isaiah Thomas though. Thomas will never be an elite defender in this league but that doesn’t mean he can’t be good. Isaiah is fully capable of forcing turnovers and not being the liability he is now on that end. Changes like these have to start with the team’s best player so I will be watching Isaiah to see improvement on that end.
So my New Year’s Resolution for this team is simple. Play defense at the level they played last season. They need to go back to that defense that made me smile every time I watched them. Guys diving on the floor, forcing turnovers and above all not being scared of anybody on the opposing team. Nobody wanted to play Boston because they knew they were in for a fight. Getting back to this point has little to do with talent. It has everything to do with recommitting themselves to that end of the floor.