Celtics

Beyond the numbers: Celtics defense looking playoff ready

Beyond the numbers: Celtics defense looking playoff ready

There’s no getting around the Boston Celtics’ quest for the top overall seed in the East, an effort that seems to be getting a little bit of a boost courtesy of Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue’s decision to rest his core guys (LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving) at different intervals in the final weeks of the season. 

With or without home court advantage, the Celtics will have to win on the road at some point in the postseason. It’s a good thing they’ve had plenty of practice, evident by them having already clinched a winning road record – a first for the Celtics since 2011. They’ll look to add to their road success tonight against a Philadelphia team which the Celtics have beaten on the road each of the last four matchups. 

And while the Celtics have won primarily with a high-powered offense this season, their success of late has been more of the grit-and-grind, defensively-charged brand of basketball that we see often in the playoffs. 

Here are four areas in which Boston’s defense has made progress on the road of late.

DEFENSIVE RATING

For the season, Boston’s defense has been at its best away from the TD Garden, posting a defensive rating on the road of 105.9 which ranks eighth in the NBA. Since the all-star break, Boston’s defense has been even more stifling away from the Garden with a rating of 102.7 which ranks fourth in the NBA.

REBOUND PERCENTAGE

Home or away, rebounding has been a struggle for Boston most of this season. The team’s rebounding percentage on the road this season is .477 which ranks 28th in the NBA. But since the all-star break, Boston has shown significant growth in this area which is critical to their improved play defensively. Since the break, Boston’s rebounding percentage is .501 which ranks 14th in the NBA. 

OPPONENT 3-POINT PERCENTAGE

Even with the inconsistent play Boston has had defensively this season, the Celtics’ ability to contest 3’s has been a strength. This season, they have limited opponents on the road to 33.4 percent shooting from 3-point range which ranks second in the league. Although they have been even better since the break in limiting teams to 31.3 percent shooting from 3-point range, although they have slipped to being No. 3 in the league in this category.

OPPONENT OFFENSIVE REBOUND PERCENTAGE

When it came to missed shots against the Boston Celtics, often that would be their best offense with the way Boston allowed teams to get second and third-shot opportunities. This season on the road, Boston opponents had an offensive rebound percentage of .248 which ranks 29th in the league. But since the all-star break, Boston has done a significantly better job in limiting opponents on the offensive glass as their opponent offensive rebound percentage has dropped to .206 which is the 10th-best mark in the NBA. 

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

The Boston Celtics trail by double digits. The Celtics rally to make it relatively close by halftime. Boston continues to gain ground in the third, pull it out in the fourth.

Rinse. Recycle. Repeat.

That has been the Celtics’ mantra this season, with the latest chapter in their comeback narrative being a 110-99 win at Atlanta.

“We need to put an emphasis on playing with space and getting the ball to the other side of the floor,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It just stuck too much early on. We were staring at some post-ups that if we got it to the other side, maybe you could take advantage of.”

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Boston (15-2) fell behind by as many as 16 points against the Hawks (3-13), the second straight game the Celtics have rallied from a double-digit deficit.

In Boston’s 92-88 win over Golden State on Thursday, the Celtics fell behind by as many as 17 before rallying for their most impressive win of the season.

That said, it still shouldn’t take away from what happened on Saturday against an Atlanta team that despite their record, has shown signs of playing better in their recent games.

Players are aware of the penchant they’ve shown thus far for falling behind only to mount a furious comeback for the win.

“We don’t try to (go down early),” said Kyrie Irving following Saturday’s win which extended their winning streak to 15 straight which is the fifth-longest streak in franchise history. “Some teams, they go on runs and whether that be us giving up some easy ones or giving up some turnovers or doing things we can correct. When we do correct them, it turns into a different game.”

And that is what makes this stretch of play so impressive.

The Celtics have not played a full game; instead they have had stretches of good play that have often masked their mistakes early in the game.

That’s why head coach Brad Stevens, obviously pleased with the team’s success, knows as well as anyone that his team has to become more consistent in their play if they are to get the most out of these wins and continue to build off of them and achieve their ultimate goal – getting back to the NBA Finals.

“We’re going to keep playing,” Stevens said. “But the biggest thing is, we can’t keep digging these holes.”

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Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

When it comes to the top backcourts in the NBA, you seldom hear about Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown.

That may soon be changing if they have more games like the one they delivered on Saturday as Boston put together a solid second half to pull away from the Atlanta Hawks, 110-99.

Irving had a game-high 30 points which was his second game with at least 30 points scored – both against Atlanta.

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And Brown, who had a strong 22-point performance in Boston’s win over Golden State on Thursday, was even better against the Hawks in tallying a career-high 27 points.

We all know about Irving who has established himself as one of the NBA’s top guards.

But is Brown on the way?

One thing Brown won’t have to develop going forward is, confidence.

He has long maintained that he believes he’ll be among the best in the league. It’s just a matter of him performing at a high level at both ends of the floor, consistently.

“I’ve always had that confidence, I can play with the best in the world,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin following the win over Atlanta which extended Boston’s winning streak to 15 in a row. “It’s just a matter of coming out, doing it. My teammates found me tonight. We had a good team win tonight.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 110-99 win at Atlanta which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to 15 in a row which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

 

STARS

Jaylen Brown

Back in his home state of Georgia, Jaylen Brown delivered another monster game for the Celtics by scoring a career-high 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting with four 3-pointers.

Kyrie Irving

Irving had his most efficient game this season for the Celtics, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting to go with four rebounds and five assists.

Dennis Schroder

Atlanta’s best scorer delivering a strong 23-point, 9-assist performance for the Hawks.

 

STUDS

Jayson Tatum

He only had 14 points, but they all came in the third quarter and they included a few crowd-quieting dunks.

John Collins

He came into the league with the reputation of being a high motor player, and he has not disappointed. His hustle and energy led to him tallying 18 points and seven rebounds.

Marcus Morris

When the offense struggled mightily in the first half, it was Morris’ scoring that kept them within striking distance. He finished with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second quarter.

Kent Bazemore

He was Atlanta’s number two scoring option most of the night, and finished with 19 points.

 

DUDS

Boston’s first quarter defense

The Celtics can’t keep digging themselves these early holes, expecting they will turn it on and find a way to climb out of them. The Hawks led 35-20, fueled in large part by shooting 64.7 percent (11-for-17) in addition to out-rebounding Boston 8-6.

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