Brad Stevens thinks stats don't tell whole story on Cavaliers defense

Brad Stevens thinks stats don't tell whole story on Cavaliers defense

WALTHAM, Mass. – Like most NBA teams, Brad Stevens and his coaches pay attention not only to the analytic numbers of opponents, but trends as well. 

When it comes to Cleveland (50-27), even with them coming into the TD Garden riding a three-game winning streak and a share of the best record in the East with the Celtics (50-27), Cleveland’s defense has been horrible for several weeks.

For the season, their defensive rating is 108.1 which ranks 23rd in the NBA. Since the all-star break, they have been second-to-last in the league with a 112.3 rating. 

Stevens knows the data back and forth on the Cavs. 

But Stevens also takes into account what we call the "eye test."

And the Cleveland team that he has seen and the one that has struggled statistically, are not necessarily one in the same.

“One of the things when you talk about teams, you have to talk in terms of averages; talk in terms of what the stats say and anything else," Stevens said. "But then there’s a coaching and playing side as you’re preparing for a team. And it’s a lot more about what they are capable of.”

But here’s the weird thing about this Cleveland-Boston matchup this season.

Cleveland's numbers against Boston defensively, aren’t all that different than their regular season or post-All Star break numbers. 

In the three games they have played this season, the Cavs have a defensive rating of 115.7.

And in the two Cleveland wins, the Cavs’ defensive rating is even worst (118.3).

Still, the Celtics refuse to let the numbers trump what they’ve seen up close and personal this season when facing the reigning NBA champs.

“This is a really good team,” Stevens said. “They’ve had their moments when they haven’t played quite as well. At the end of the day, this team can score on anybody at any time. And we’ve all seen them turn it up to a defensive level where they’re really difficult to score on. I thought they defended us really well in early March. I don’t think, my perspective, I don’t look at them as a team where they stand by the numbers. I’ve seen in the past what they are capable of.”

And besides, regardless of the numbers or games they have lost, Boston players know that any shot they have at getting out of the Eastern Conference will have to include having to go through the Cavaliers. 

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said he still sees the Cavs as the team to beat in the East. 

“They are. They’re defending champions,” Thomas said. “It definitely goes through them and the whole world knows that. It should be a really good game tomorrow. Everybody is ready for it.” 

Terry Rozier's rise should continue without Kyrie Irving

AP Photo

Terry Rozier's rise should continue without Kyrie Irving

When it comes to Western Conference powers, the casual NBA fan will immediately think of the defending champion Golden State Warriors, or the Houston Rockets who loom as their biggest threat. 

And then there’s the next-best team in the West, Portland, which has been sneaky good this season with very little fanfare. 

Boston will see first-hand just how talented the Blazers are when these two square off tonight.

Portland’s improved play of late (they’ve won 13 of their last 14 games) is fueled in large part by them taking more 3-pointers. 

Prior to Jan. 1, the Blazers averaged 24.6 three-point attempts which ranked 26th in the NBA. Since then, they have increased their 3-point attempt average to 30.5 which ranks 12th in the league.

Couple that with a defense that has been among the league’s best most of this season, and voila! – you’ve got a team that’s playing great basketball at just the right time. 

But the Celtics on many levels, while undermanned because of injuries, are still an elite team defensively.

And the one area where Boston has been strong all season, is defending the three-point shot.

Opponents are shooting a league-low 34.1 percent against Boston from 3-point range this season.

And while Boston’s defense isn’t the same when you’re talking about not having a Marcus Smart in the lineup, the Celtics are still a formidable foe at that end of the floor. 

In Boston’s last four games, all without Smart, Boston’s defensive rating is 98.8 which is good for the fourth-best in the NBA in that time period. 

“We’ve been a next man up kind of team all season,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “That’s why it’s important to always stay ready. Because you know at some point on this team, you’re number’s going to be called and you’ll get your opportunity.”

Here are five under-the-radar story lines as the Boston Celtics seek to continue their strong play this season against Western Conference foes, at Portland. 



Terry Rozier has been a different kind of player ever since he got his first start a few weeks ago filling in for Kyrie Irving. The third-year guard has scored in double figures 20 straight games, a career first for him. In that span he has averaged 15.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from 3-point range.


If tonight’s game plays out as expected, points will be at a premium. Boston has the league’s top-ranked defense (101.2) even as its defensive rating has slipped to No. 5 in the league (103.1) since the all-star break. Meanwhile, the Blazers have the seventh-best defensive rating (104.3) this season, but are third (101.0) in the NBA since the all-star break.


You will be hard-pressed to find a player who wouldn’t mind a little rest with the playoffs less than a month away. But are a couple days without games too much rest? It certainly looks that way for the Celtics who are 4-6 this season with two or more days of rest before a game. The Portland Trail Blazers are at the opposite end of the success spectrum with a 10-3 record when they’ve had two days of rest before a game. 


Both Boston and Portland have been among the NBA’s better defensive rebounding teams all season. But they have each stepped up their defensive rebounding play this month. Portland, the fourth-best defensive rebounding team this season, have grabbed a league-best 83.2 percent in March while the Celtics, the sixth-best defensive rebounding team this season, are up to No. 3 (80.6 percent) this month.


Jayson Tatum is nearing the end of one of the best rookie seasons by a Boston Celtic ever, well on his way to statistically cementing himself as one of the franchise’s best first-year players ever. The 6-foot-8 forward is 35 points shy of tallying 1,000 points which would make him the ninth rookie ever to do so for Boston, with the last to do so being Ron Mercer during the 1997-1998 season.



UPDATE: Doctor thinks Irving could return in 'three to four weeks' in best-case scenario

UPDATE: Doctor thinks Irving could return in 'three to four weeks' in best-case scenario

BOSTON –  Kyrie Irving will undergo a “minimally invasive procedure” on Saturday to help alleviate the left knee soreness that has kept the five-time All-Star out for the last four games. 

On Thursday, Irving had a second opinion on his left knee and spent yesterday and today consulting with other medical officials to determine the best course of action going forward. 


While no timetable has been set for his return -- that will likely be announced following the procedure tomorrow -- Dr. Christopher Chihlas from Southcoast Health told NBC Sports Boston that Irving could return in "three to four weeks" in the best-case scenario.

Irving, acquired by Boston from Cleveland during the offseason via trade, has appeared in 60 games and has had arguably his most efficient season as a scorer in the NBA.

The 26-year-old has averaged 24.4 points per game this season while shooting a career-high 49.1 percent from the field. Irving has continued to showcase a strong game from 3-point range as well, connecting on 40.8 percent of his 3’s this season. He has also managed to get his teammates involved with a team-high 5.1 assists per game along with snatching 3.8 rebounds which is a career high.