By A. Sherrod Blakely
HOUSTON When you look at all the changes the Boston Celtics have made lately, it's clear that they have added more weapons offensively.
But at what cost?
The Celtics are still one of the NBA's upper echelon teams defensively, even with all the new faces.
But as far as defense remaining this team's identity?
The more you watch them play, the more this point becomes debatable.
You can add one more reason to question this team's foundation being about defense, following Friday night's 93-77 loss at Houston.
Houston only shot 43.8 percent from the field, and scored less than 100 points - the kind of defensive benchmarks you would ideally like to see every game.
But what's lost in the numbers, is how that defense was impacted by the Celtics offense not getting off to a good start.
Houston opened the game with an 8-1 spurt, fueled in large part by the Celtics' inability to make shots that on most nights, usually fall in.
Those missed shots seemed to result in some frustration that eventually seeped into the team's defensive efforts.
And just like that, the Celtics found themselves on the short end of a potential blowout - before halftime.
"We showed them seven, point-blank shots at the basket (at halftime) that didn't go in," Rivers said. "I thought we got a little frustrated because we were missing shots."
Rivers added, "that's uncharacteristic of us. But I definitely thought our offense led to our bad defense."
That is a damning commentary when you consider how much stock the Celtics put into being a stout, gritty defensive-minded team.
"Even though we missed shots, we missed lay-ups, that should never discourage us of how we play night-in and night-out on the defensive end," said Paul Pierce. "We got our work cut out for us if we want to retain home court (throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs), if we want to be on top of the East. We have to wake up inside if we're going to consistently play the type of Celtics defense that got us this record."
Kevin Garnett is the anchor of the Celtics defense, which has been among the NBA's best ever since Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces with Paul Pierce to form the Big Three in 2007.
And as much as Garnett prides himself and his teammates in putting defense first, he can't say with any degree of certainty whether or not the C's allowed their offensive woes early on against the Rockets impact their play at the other end of the floor.
"I want to say no, because we're a defensive team and we can't let offense dictate defense," Garnett said. "But it certainly seemed that way. They got into an early rhythm and it was hard to turn them off."