Blakely: Celtics' latest win proves again that defense is their foundation

Blakely: Celtics' latest win proves again that defense is their foundation

BOSTON – It’s hard to not look at what Tom Thibodeau has done with his Minnesota team and not appreciate how he’s guided them from Timberpups to full-grown, butt-kicking, pain-in-the-you-know-what ballers who have beaten some of the best teams in the NBA lately.

That’s why Boston’s 117-104 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday is a bigger win than you think.

There are few teams playing better at both ends of the floor since the All-Star break, than the Timberwolves.

But that didn’t matter to the Celtics.

They have talked the talk about being a defensive-minded, get-after-it kind of club for months.

Well, talking time is over. It’s about getting it done. And as we’ve seen recently, that’s exactly what they’re doing.


For most of this season, they have won by simply outscoring teams with a barrage of 3-pointers that has shattered several franchise records on offense.

But as much as the fans love to see the Celtics make it rain from deep, head coach Brad Stevens is no dummy.

He knows for this team to be all that it is capable of being, the defense has to get better – a lot better – and be more consistent.

That’s why Wednesday’s victory over the Timberwolves was so important.

Boston came into the game having blasted the Chicago Bulls 100-80 on Sunday.

It was a game in which the Celtics defense absolutely handcuffed the Bulls offense, forcing them to miss their first 12 shots and 18 of 19.

Boston wasn’t that dominant against Minnesota, but it was clear that a similar effort was on display.

Like most teams, the Celtics had a stretch or two when the defense wasn’t that good.

But here’s the thing.

Even during those stretches when they weren’t playing great defense, it had nothing to do with effort and everything to do with the Timberwolves doing a better job at executing.

You can live with that because if you have a good defensive team with good defensive players – and the Celtics have both, mind you – you can get by during those stretches of not-so-great play and not be totally devastated or blown away.

“First off I think the key, not just one or two people playing on defense, it has to be everyone that’s in the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “It helps our team so much. It gets the bench going, it gets the fans into the game. That has to be our identity, it helps us win games.”

He’s right.

And that defensive mindset Bradley speaks of starts with the first unit.

They have to continue to evolve as a group whose foundation centers around sharing the ball on offense while playing tough, five-man defense.

We saw that against the Bulls on Sunday, and we saw it again against the Timberwolves particularly in the second half when they outscored Minnesota 59-44 while limiting the Timberwolves to 37.0 percent shooting from the field.

“We’ve been better defensively,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Hopefully that stays that way.”

It’ll have to if they are to have the kind of season they envision, a season that will include a deep playoff run that will be fueled by a team whose foundation lies in their play defensively; the gritty, grimy, get-it-done kind that does more than just win a few games. 

It allows you to do what so few teams are capable of, which is to move on from one playoff series to the next and compete for championships which is among the many goals this franchise has for itself going forward.

Celtics falter in fourth, Davis dominates

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics falter in fourth, Davis dominates

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 108-89 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. 


Anthony Davis: The Boston Celtics had no answer for how to contain Anthony Davis who got anything and everything he wanted, all game. He finished with a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 14-for-24 from the field.



Jayson Tatum: The Celtics didn’t get many players who elevated their play against the Pelicans, but Tatum did. He led the team with 23 points on 9-for-14 shooting. 

Rajon Rondo: It was vintage Rondo – few points, lots of assists and with that, a huge impact. The former Celtics All-Star had 11 assists with just one turnover, to go with four points.

Marcus Morris: He finished with 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Morris prides himself on an inside-outside scorer, but he really should have focused more on his 3-point shot when you consider he was 5-for-7 from 3-point range. 

Cheick Diallo: You're always suspect of a player you rarely heard of putting up big numbers in a blowout. But let’s be clear: Diallo’s scoring was on display when Sunday’s game was relatively competitive. He would finish with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. 



Fourth Quarter Celtics: It was a dismal stretch of play no matter how you cut it. Boston shot just 20 percent from the field in the fourth (4-for-20), 25 percent from 3-point range (2-for-8) while allowing New Orleans to shoot better than 50 percent in the quarter (10-for-19, 52.9 percent).

Abdel Nader: There were several things that went wrong for the Celtics in the fourth, but few stand out as much as Abdel Nader’s struggles from the free throw line. A 72-percent free throw shooter this season, Nader was 2-for-8 from the line which included him missing five in a row.


Celtics have no answer for Davis in loss to Pelicans, 108-89

AP Photo

Celtics have no answer for Davis in loss to Pelicans, 108-89

The Boston Celtics found themselves on the comeback trail most of the second half on Sunday, with a pathway toward success remaining elusive all night as the New Orleans Pelicans got a much-needed 108-89 win over the Boston Celtics. 

MVP candidate Anthony Davis had another huge game against the Celtics as he tallied 34 points and 11 rebounds.

Boston (47-23) has now lost three of its last four games, while the Pelicans (40-30) are hoping Sunday’s victory will jumpstart them after losing four of their previous five games prior to Sunday night’s victory. 

The game’s turning point came in the fourth quarter when Boston’s Abdel Nader was fouled on a 3-point attempt with Boston trailing 82-76. 

On the play, New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry was whistled for a technical foul. 

Nader, a 72.0 percent free throw shooter this season, missed all four – yes, all four – free throws.

New Orleans responded with a 10-3 run and their control of the game was never an issue afterwards.

It was indeed a tale of two different halves as New Orleans opened the third quarter with an 11-3 run to lead 58-52. 

The Pelicans continued to soldier on as their lead peaked at 11 points following a free throw by Davis made it a 76-65 game. 

Boston was able to cut into New Orleans’ lead but still trailed 82-76 going into the fourth quarter.

The ending was in stark contrast to how the night began for Boston.

The Celtics continued their run of strong starts to games, with an 8-0 run which sucked for the New Orleans Pelicans fans who stood on their feet until New Orleans finally scored on a lay-up by ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo with 8:35 to play in the first.

That would be the catalyst for a much-needed spurt by the Pelicans which brought then within 10-8. 

But Boston didn’t waste any time putting some distance between the team and New Orleans as the Celtics maintained a comfortable 28-20 lead at the end of the first quarter which extended Boston’s run of leads after one quarter of play, to nine in a row and 11 of the last 12.

The second quarter proved to be a much tighter affair for the Celtics as the Pelicans took their first lead of the game, 43-42, on a lob dunk by Davis. 

New Orleans lead didn’t last long as Boston closed out the quarter by scoring seven of the game’s last 11 points to lead 49-47 at the half. 

Despite having a patchwork lineup because of injuries, Boston still managed to spend most of the game playing with a lead. Fill-in starter Marcus Morris was a matchup nightmare for the Pelicans as the 6-foot-9 forward had 14 points in the first half.

Boston also got a strong first half from Jayson Tatum who led all Celtics with 15 points in the first half, and a team-high 23 for the game.