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.


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.”


Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

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Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

Isaiah Thomas back in green? Maybe there's a chance after all.

The former Celtics guard, now with the Lakers, started a Q&A session on Twitter and was asked whether he'd consider returning to Boston this offseason. This was his answer...

That's not a no.

Thomas has had a rough go of it since leaving the Celtics. His brief tenure in Cleveland didn't go according to plan, and things haven't gotten a whole lot better out in L.A. The 29-year-old is averaging 15.3 points per game just a year after averaging 28.9 with Boston.

Let the speculation begin.


Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Al Horford understands that there’s plenty of blame pie to go around following Boston’s 108-89 loss to New Orleans. 

Considering how Pelicans stud Anthony Davis dominated the game on so many levels Sunday night, Horford was quick to acknowledge his role in the loss. 

“He (Davis) was able to get behind our defense a lot,” Horford told reporters after the loss. “Some mistakes on my end; gotta give him credit. He dominated tonight. I’ll definitely take the blame for that.”

Davis finished with a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds, a total that would have been higher if not for the game being so lopsided which allowed Davis to head to the bench early in the fourth. 

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Pelicans

And Horford’s struggles defensively were just as problematic on offense as the five-time All-Star tallied just six points on 3-for-11 shooting to go with four rebounds and three assists. 

Boston has been a team whose collective sums have fueled their success. 

But Horford understands he has to be a high impact performer, a job that’s even more vital when key starters like Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) and Jaylen Brown (concussion) are out as well as top reserves Marcus Smart (right thumb) and Daniel Theis (torn meniscus). 

And by Horford’s own admission, he just didn’t bring it on Sunday at a level to give him and the Celtics a legit shot at winning the game.

“Defensively we had too many breakdowns,” Horford said. “And the game got away from us in the second half. So there’s no excuses. I didn’t give us a chance, either; missing a lot of looks offensively. I just need to be better.”

And he’ll have to be if Boston (47-23) is to get back on track with a win on Tuesday against a talented Oklahoma City squad led by Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. 

At full strength, the Thunder would be a significant challenge for the Celtics. 

But having a roster with a number of key players out with injuries, it becomes even more imperative for Boston’s top players to elevate their play. 

And as you scan this Celtics roster and examine those who are healthy enough to play, it’s clear that Horford more than any other Boston player, has to find a way to become more impactful.

Certainly, more points and rebounds would help. 

But as we’ve seen time and time again with Horford, often his greatest contributions to winning games don’t necessarily show up in the final box score. 

That being said, a six-point, four-rebound game doesn’t cut it. 

Horford has to be better, something he knows better than anyone. 

“I’ll definitely look at the film and see how I can be better individually,” Horford said. “The good thing about the NBA, is we have a chance to play on Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll learn from this game and be ready to go Tuesday at home.”