The Boston Celtics have been one of the NBA's best defensive teams during the 2019-20 season, and they'll need to continue that strong play to make a deep playoff run in Orlando.
The league will resume its season later this month at Walt Disney World Resort, where 22 teams are scheduled to play eight additional seeding games before 16 clubs will take part in a normal four-round playoffs using the Best-of-7 format.
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It's going to take time for players to regain their chemistry with teammates after having several months away from each other amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This scenario is among the reasons why Celtics forward Gordon Hayward feels that defense will be more important than ever when games begin.
"I think we're all going to learn what's the most important thing heading into a shortened season, or what do you need the most," Hayward told reporters in a video conference call Friday. "I think there's going to be a huge emphasis on defense, because without a doubt the offense might be a bit further behind just as far as -- we haven't played together, we haven't been with each other. And that usually takes time, that takes a season to kind of get your groove going to where by the end of the year, you know exactly the plays that work really well, where you're going to get your shots. You have this great rythmn that you get into -- this zone you get into.
"I'm confident we'll get into that, but it certainly takes a lot longer than the defensive side, where I think our versatility should help us a lot. I think our depth should help us a lot, especially on (the defensive) end. If our offense is maybe not as crisp at first, we'll give ourselves a chance by being really tough defensively. So that for sure will be an emphasis for us and other teams as well."
The Celtics rank fourth in defensive rating (106.2) and they've allowed the second-fewest points per game (106.8), while also ranking fourth in defensive field goal percentage (44.2), third in defensive 3-point percentage (34.2) and 11th in rebounds per game (44.3).
Hayward is absolutely right -- Boston's versatility on defense is a huge advantage. Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart all are capable of guarding three or more positions. This means they can switch most pick-and-rolls and not get caught in too many mismatches. It's a great luxury for a coach, particularly in an era where small-ball lineups are everywhere.
The Celtics are capable of outscoring teams as well. In fact, they are the only team in the league with three players averaging 20-plus points per game. But if the C's are going to make a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the defensive end of the floor likely will be the reason they succeed.