Celtics

Five takeaways: Celtics top-rated defense underwhelms vs. Bucks

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Five takeaways: Celtics top-rated defense underwhelms vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE –  As good as the Boston Celtics have been defensively all season, they’ve had a defensive clunker from time to time. 

But what we’ve seen thus far after four games is a Milwaukee team that Boston has been unable to slow down or limit offensively. 

In the four games thus far, the Bucks have shot 54.2 percent from the field, tops among all playoff teams. And Boston’s defense, which had a league-best defensive rating in the regular season of 101.5, is next-to-last in the playoffs with a defensive rating of 113.9.

When you talk adjustments, none looms any larger for the Celtics than trying to find a way to force Milwaukee into not being quite so efficient. 

Of course the shooting of Giannis Antetokoumpo (62 percent) and Khris Middleton (61.5 percent) skew the numbers somewhat, with both shooting better than 60 percent combined in addition to having taken 43.6 percent of all Milwaukee’s shots. For most defenses in the NBA, you would chalk it up as nothing more than the Bucks being red-hot from the field. But Boston isn’t just any team on defense. 

The Celtics were the league’s best club in several defensive categories during the regular season, so the sight of them being routinely roasted by the Bucks’ shooters is somewhat surprising and to a lesser degree, disturbing as they try to regain control of the series in Game 5. 

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 104-102 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Baynes conundrum

No one had a better defensive rating (97.0) in the NBA than Aron Baynes, and when you watch him play there is no denying his impact. But the Bucks love to run pick-and-rolls where he is switched out on Giannis Antetokounmpo who has been a major problem. Baynes’ defensive rating in the playoffs has is 115.3 which ranks 149th among players who have played in four playoff games. But he has also been one of Boston’s top rebounders which is in part why the Celtics have reason to be hesitant to limit his playing time too much. 

Brown, Tatum ready to shine

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been central figures in Boston’s ascension this season, with both showing noticeable growth in the postseason. They were particularly strong in Boston’s Game 4 loss with Brown scoring a career-high 34 points while Tatum had 21 points with 18 coming in the second half. The future is now for the Celtics, and these two are leading the charge. 

Rozier shooting struggles continue

Terry Rozier has been the ultimate litmus test to how Boston is faring in this series. When he has been good, so have the Celtics. And when he has struggled, Boston followed suit with less-than-impressive play. After averaging 23 points in Boston’s Game 1 and Game 2 wins, his scoring dropped significantly to 9.5 points per game in Game 3 and 4 losses. 

Jabari Parker

After being a non-factor, Parker has delivered the kind of bench production the Bucks have been longing for in this series. After scoring just two points in Games 1 and 2 combined, Parker averaged 16.5 points in Games 3 and 4, connecting on 12-for-22 of his shots from the field. 

Thon Maker

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher that Thon Maker played just one minute in Games 1 and 2 combined and was unleashed at home in Games 3 and 4. To his credit, he was a difference-maker in Game 4 with eight points along with tallying five blocks for the second straight game. Boston has to do a better job of limiting is impact not only as a defender, but also as a 3-point threat. In Games 3 and 4, he was 5-for-9 (55 percent) from 3-point range.

Danny Ainge has established a good track record of getting the best player available

Danny Ainge has established a good track record of getting the best player available

The last couple of years have answered the question of whether Danny Ainge can draft. When making his first choice in 2016 and 2017, he was higher on his guy than most. In both cases, he was right. 

No major publication considered Jayson Tatum the best player last year; Ainge would have taken him No. 1 but was able to trade down because the Sixers were trading up for Markelle Fultz and the Lakers for some reason wanted to sign up for the Lonzo Ball life.

Jaylen Brown at No. 3 in 2016? You remember the boos, and you can understand why they happened. Fans were confused. If they'd been checking nbadraft.net like we all did, they expected him to be the ninth pick. 

Yet in both cases, Ainge and Co. were clearly right. Holding a high pick with no consensus option awaiting him, they wound up with the best player available. 

What's more impressive is that they've also done it later in the draft, and the further down the board you go to make your first pick, the easier it is to take a guy who won't amount to anything, let alone prove to be the best possible selection. 

That's what the Celtics did three years ago with Terry Rozier at No. 16. At the time, Bleacher Report Senior NBA writer Howard Beck deemed that selection the "biggest reach" of the draft; at the very least, the Celtics were heavily criticized for taking him where they did.

Go look at that draft and the players who were selected after Rozier. Would you rather any of those guys over Rozier? Maybe Josh Richardson? Maybe? Probably not, though? 

Now, here's where we need to note that the 2015 draft, for as good as it looks now for the Celtics, could have greatly derailed what's been an excellent rebuild. As the legend goes, Ainge intended to trade a whole lot to get from No. 16 to No. 9 in order to select Justise Winslow, who just had a worse third NBA season than Rozier. 

How badly did Ainge want to move up? According to ESPN's Chris Forsberg that summer, Ainge offered Charlotte "as many as six draft picks, including four potential first-round selections," only to have the deal rejected. Keep in mind that the Celtics still had three Brooklyn picks (which would turn into Brown, Tatum and Kyrie Irving) at that point. 

At any rate, the basketball gods saved Ainge from himself and he followed it up by making the right selection. The latter has happened three straight years now. 

Before that, the Celtics looked more human at the draft. Using 2010 as the cutoff (they didn't have a first-round pick in 2009, so 2010 seemed like a good place to keep it semi-recent), the Celtics have had their fair share of not-quite-misses-but-not-quite-home-runs. The Marcus Smart pick (No. 6 overall in 2014) could have been better spent on Dario Saric. Jared Sullinger (21st overall in 2012) could have instead been Draymond Green (No. 35). Three picks after the Celtics took JaJuan Johnson at 27 (via New Jersey), the Bulls took Jimmy Butler.

Of course, there's no more devastating "what if?" to play than looking back at 2013, when the Celtics got Kelly Olynyk at No. 13 (via Dallas), only to later learn they'd passed on the best player in that draft (Giannis Antetokounmpo). 

Yet that three-year run on not getting the best player has been sandwiched by stronger drafting. In 2010, the C's' selection over Avery Bradley at No. 19 proved to be the best pick they could have made. 

The Celtics are slotted to pick at No. 27 Thursday, a spot that promises very little, though they've got more than enough ammunition to move up. Even if they get whoever proves to be the best NBA player of the guys on the board, there's no promise that said player will have much of an NBA career. Their last three top picks have shown that if they do jump up, they'll get the right guy. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: What's the ideal draft night for the Celtics?

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: What's the ideal draft night for the Celtics?

1:26 - With the NBA Draft finally here, it’s still a mystery exactly what Danny Ainge's Celtics are going to do, whether it’s trade up or stand pat with the 27th overall pick. A. Sherrod Blakely reveals his pipe dream for the draft as well as his top five players the C’s could realistically end up taking at 27.

6:27 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley and Danielle Trotta debate if Eric Decker would be a good fit in New England after the veteran receiver said that he’d love to play for the Patriots.

9:26 - We went to you the fans in a Twitter poll to get the scoop on who is the most entertaining team in Boston and Tom Curran and Michael Holley discuss the results.

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE