Celtics

Some cracks appearing in Celtics defense

Some cracks appearing in Celtics defense

BOSTON – The Celtics’ foundation – defense -  while solid, can crack from time to time.
 
On Monday night, it was crushed in ways we had not seen this season at the hands of the Detroit Pistons, who beat them 118-108.

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The loss itself was rare.
 
But the way it came about was even more foreign to a Celtics team that has put the defensive clamps on teams far superior offensively than the Pistons, who came into the game averaging 103.7 points per game which ranked 18th in the NBA.
 
So, what happened?
 
Did Detroit have a lucky night, or is this vaunted Celtics defense not all it’s cracked up to be?
 
The truth, as is the case in most matters, lies somewhere in between those two extremes.
 
Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy acknowledged the performance of his team was one of its best this season.
 
“From an offensive standpoint, that is the best we have played all year,” Van Gundy said. “Relative to that’s the best defensive team in the league and we were able to consistently get good shots.”
 
Remember, Boston had allowed 100 or more points just four times in their first 17 games. Two of those came in the first two games of the season.
 
Since then, teams have hit the 100-plus point plateau four times in the past five games.
 
Boston’s defensive rating of 98.3 still ranks atop the NBA leaderboard.
 
But if you look at the past five games?
 
Their defensive rating has slipped to 106.3 - 20th in the league in that span.
 
More than anything else, some of the preseason concerns about this team have materialized recently.
 
Take rebounding, which has been one of the Celtics’ surprising strengths this season.
 
In the past five games, Boston has rebounded the ball at a clip that many feared would be more commonplace with the Celtics this season.
 
While Boston ranks seventh in rebounding percentage (.520) this season, they have slipped to 24th (.479) over the past five games.
 
By no means will you find the Celtics hitting the panic button or anything like that as it relates to their defense.
 
But what we’ve seen of late, are some of the concerns that warranted coach Brad Stevens to downplay the significance of the team’s 16-game winning streak referring to it as a bit “of a mirage.”
 
“We’re not as good as the 16-game winning streak,” Stevens said shortly after it ended with a loss at Miami. “It was...we do have a lot of resolve. I can’t say enough about our guy’s will to come back; it’s incredible. We have to get better, we have to get better with what we’re trying to do. We know we have to get better.”  
 
Having said that, he has also embraced the reality that the Celtics have lately faced teams that present some unique and, at times, difficult challenges.
 
In the loss at Miami which ended the 16-game losing streak, the Celtics had to contend with a Miami Heat team that drives the ball more than most, on a night when they were having one of their best shooting nights of the season.
 
Miami mixed those two together and had a recipe for halting the fourth-longest winning streak in Celtics’ history.
  
The Pistons haven’t scored a lot this season but have shown of late to be one of the more efficient teams offensively, utilizing lots of off-the-ball movement that has created a better flow offensively for them and create more matchup problems for opponents.
 
That’s why they have a top 10 offense whose offensive rating (106.2) ranks ninth in the league.
 
“A couple of our recent games we played against teams that have played excellent offense and put us in a bind in a lot of different ways where we had to – we really had to pick our poison,” Stevens said after the loss to Detroit. “And I think our defense wasn’t very good [against the Pistons]. But, again, I credit that more to Detroit’s offense and the way they ran and the pace they ran, and everything else.”

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

When you look at the Boston Celtics’ bench, you’re not going to find many (any?) players who are consistent shot-makers.

But defensively, in this small-ball era we live in, the potential for Boston’s second unit to put the clamps on teams defensively is apparent.

We saw that in Boston’s 102-93 win over Memphis in the fourth quarter when the Celtics opened with a 16-0 run that put them ahead for good.

During the run, the Celtics forced four turnovers along with creating seven straight misses by the Grizzlies to start the quarter.

“Shane (Larkin) and Terry (Rozier) did a great job on the ball,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We had to change some coverages because of (Marc) Gasol. And then just kind of stayed with it.”

The Grizzlies wound up shooting 33.3 percent (6-for-18) in the fourth quarter which was heavily impacted by Boston's fourth quarter defensive rating being an impressive 90.1.

And while the play of starters Jayson Tatum (19 points, seven in the fourth quarter), Kyrie Irving (team-high 20 points) and Al Horford (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists) was key to the victory, the second unit’s play defensively to start the fourth was ultimately what paved the way for Boston to improve its East-leading record to 25-7.

In a interview with NBC Sports Boston prior to Saturday’s game, Rozier discussed the need for the bench to step up in every aspect of the game.

“When the starters are doing good, we have to keep it going and when they struggle a little bit, we have change the game up, get the momentum back on our side,” said Rozier who in addition to playing good defense on Saturday, also had 10 points and four rebounds.

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis on Saturday.

FAST START

This was one of the more dominant starts to a game we’ve seen from the Celtics all season. They had 31 points in the first quarter, which was one of the higher scoring starts for them this season. But more telling was that they allowed just 12 points, the fewest given up by the Celtics in the first quarter of play this season.

TERRY ROZIER/MARCUS SMART TANDEM

 When it comes to the Boston’s bench being effective, Rozier and Smart are often the barometers for that success. They had their ups and downs against Memphis, but really locked in at both ends of the floor in the second half. And maybe most significant, they provided some much-needed bench scoring as they combined for 21 of Boston’s 26 points off the bench.

JAYSON TATUM

Like the Boston Celtics, back-to-back bad games doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA. Against the Grizzlies, he had 19 points – seven of which in the fourth quarter – which was a major improvement upon the seven points he scored against Utah on Friday while missing five of his six shot attempts.

MARC GASOL

This has been a horrible, injury-riddled season for the Memphis Grizzlies. And while Marc Gasol doesn’t dominate games as consistently as he did a couple years ago, he’s still an extremely talented big man who would plenty of potential suitors if the Grizzlies ever felt inclined to put him on the trading block which is not the case currently. The Celtics had major problems limiting him on Saturday before Gasol finished with a double-double of 30 points and 10 rebounds.

CELTICS DOMINATE THE WEST

Beating the Grizzlies in itself isn’t all that impressive. But it continues what has been a season-long trend for the Celtics in being able to beat on teams from the Western Conference. This season, Boston has a 10-2 record against the West. And Boston’s .833 winning percentage against Western Conference foes is tops among Eastern Conference teams.

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Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

The Boston Celtics got the win over Memphis, with the team’s second unit chipping in for the victory.

But they still have too many offensive lulls, something head coach Brad Stevens recognizes and to his credit, is continuing to search for ways to address appropriately.

We’ve seen him utilize a starter playing with the backups.

But in Saturday’s 102-93 win at Memphis, Stevens elected to play a pair of starters with the second unit for longer stretches which on this night at least, helped them get the victory to extend their East-leading record to 25-7.

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In fact, Boston had at least two starters on the floor in the fourth quarter for all but the final 28.4 seconds of play.

“It’s one of those things, it’s probably going to go back and forth,” Stevens said. “Based on who’s available.”

A key missing part of the Celtics’ bench rotation is Marcus Morris who continues with rehab on his sore left knee.

Morris, who did not make the trip with the team, is out indefinitely although the Celtics maintain that he’s close to resuming action.

Stevens was asked about his use of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford together, with a trio of reserves.

“If Marcus Morris is here, maybe you don’t play either of them with that group,” Stevens said.

Morris has appeared in 16 games (nine starts) for the Celtics this season, averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Indeed, bench production has been an issue for the Boston Celtics all season.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics bench came into tonight’s game averaging 30.5 points per game which ranked 23rd in the NBA. However, Boston’s defense has limited second units to 32.6 points per game which ranks 8th in the league.

Against the Grizzlies, Boston only had three players off the bench score (Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis) who combined for 26 points.

But as limited as they were scoring the ball, Memphis was even worse with a second unit scoring total of just 15 points.

Of course, rotations are a season-long, always-evolving process that is dependent heavily on not just who is available, but how those who are available to play are performing.

The Celtics’ second unit has had their moments this season, but by and large the team’s success has been heavily fueled by the play of the starters.

Stevens has made it clear, he’ll continue to find ways for those guys to be put in the best positions to succeed individually as well as for the Celtics.

And as long as Morris remains out, you can expect Stevens will continue to find ways to fill that void with increased usage from his starters.

“As long as Marcus Morris isn’t playing,” Stevens said, “We need to be alert to that and guys are going to have to play different rotations.”

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