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, Jaylen Brown's crucial flub in Game 4 was actually officiating error

Celtics, Jaylen Brown's crucial flub in Game 4 was actually officiating error

BOSTON – The NBA’s two-minute report on Boston’s Game 4 loss at Milwaukee revealed a trio of incorrect non-calls in the closing moments of play, two of which went against the Celtics in their 104-102 loss. 

With Boston ahead 100-99 with less than a minute to play, Jaylen Brown lost the ball on a driving lay-up attempt. 

No call was made on the play, one that Brown thought he was fouled on. 

The two-minute report confirmed “that (Khris) Middleton makes contact to Brown's arm that affects his driving shot attempt.”

Had the call been made, Brown would have gone to the free throw line with 43.5 seconds to play with the Celtics already ahead by one point. 

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But on the ensuing Milwaukee possession following the non-call, Malcolm Brogdon drained a 3-pointer that put the Bucks ahead 102-100.

With 47.9 seconds to play, the two-minute report also indicated that an offensive foul should have been called against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-minute report indicated that, “Antetokounmpo extends his arm and wards off (Semi) Ojeleye's arm, affecting his ability to contest the shot attempt.”

And with 1:14 to play, Antetokounmpo was fouled by Jayson Tatum although no call was made. On the play, the two-minute report says that, “Tatum clamps Antetokounmpo's arm and pushes him, affecting his (freedom of movement) and ability to receive the pass.

On the ensuing possession following the non-call, Tatum hit a jumper that put the Celtics ahead 100-99 with 52.4 seconds to play. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been asked about officiating quite a bit in the last few days. And his response in each instance remains relatively the same.

"I'm not going to ever say anything bad about referees because they have a really tough job," Stevens said. 

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Five takeaways: Celtics top-rated defense underwhelms vs. Bucks

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Five takeaways: Celtics top-rated defense underwhelms vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE –  As good as the Boston Celtics have been defensively all season, they’ve had a defensive clunker from time to time. 

But what we’ve seen thus far after four games is a Milwaukee team that Boston has been unable to slow down or limit offensively. 

In the four games thus far, the Bucks have shot 54.2 percent from the field, tops among all playoff teams. And Boston’s defense, which had a league-best defensive rating in the regular season of 101.5, is next-to-last in the playoffs with a defensive rating of 113.9.

When you talk adjustments, none looms any larger for the Celtics than trying to find a way to force Milwaukee into not being quite so efficient. 

Of course the shooting of Giannis Antetokoumpo (62 percent) and Khris Middleton (61.5 percent) skew the numbers somewhat, with both shooting better than 60 percent combined in addition to having taken 43.6 percent of all Milwaukee’s shots. For most defenses in the NBA, you would chalk it up as nothing more than the Bucks being red-hot from the field. But Boston isn’t just any team on defense. 

The Celtics were the league’s best club in several defensive categories during the regular season, so the sight of them being routinely roasted by the Bucks’ shooters is somewhat surprising and to a lesser degree, disturbing as they try to regain control of the series in Game 5. 

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 104-102 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Baynes conundrum

No one had a better defensive rating (97.0) in the NBA than Aron Baynes, and when you watch him play there is no denying his impact. But the Bucks love to run pick-and-rolls where he is switched out on Giannis Antetokounmpo who has been a major problem. Baynes’ defensive rating in the playoffs has is 115.3 which ranks 149th among players who have played in four playoff games. But he has also been one of Boston’s top rebounders which is in part why the Celtics have reason to be hesitant to limit his playing time too much. 

Brown, Tatum ready to shine

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been central figures in Boston’s ascension this season, with both showing noticeable growth in the postseason. They were particularly strong in Boston’s Game 4 loss with Brown scoring a career-high 34 points while Tatum had 21 points with 18 coming in the second half. The future is now for the Celtics, and these two are leading the charge. 

Rozier shooting struggles continue

Terry Rozier has been the ultimate litmus test to how Boston is faring in this series. When he has been good, so have the Celtics. And when he has struggled, Boston followed suit with less-than-impressive play. After averaging 23 points in Boston’s Game 1 and Game 2 wins, his scoring dropped significantly to 9.5 points per game in Game 3 and 4 losses. 

Jabari Parker

After being a non-factor, Parker has delivered the kind of bench production the Bucks have been longing for in this series. After scoring just two points in Games 1 and 2 combined, Parker averaged 16.5 points in Games 3 and 4, connecting on 12-for-22 of his shots from the field. 

Thon Maker

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher that Thon Maker played just one minute in Games 1 and 2 combined and was unleashed at home in Games 3 and 4. To his credit, he was a difference-maker in Game 4 with eight points along with tallying five blocks for the second straight game. Boston has to do a better job of limiting is impact not only as a defender, but also as a 3-point threat. In Games 3 and 4, he was 5-for-9 (55 percent) from 3-point range.