BOSTON — Ranking at or near the top of the list of concerns the Boston Celtics have about this upcoming season, is their defense.
And with one preseason game under their belts, all the concerns about the team’s defense?
They’re real, folks.
Boston escaped with a 107-106 win over Charlotte in the preseason opener for both teams, so for the defense to be a bit disjointed out of the gates, isn’t that unusual.
But after reviewing film, it was clear to head coach Brad Stevens that the times when the defense struggled, had little to do with X’s and O’s.
Prior to leaving for Orlando on Tuesday afternoon, Stevens said that in practice, they really hammered playing with more intensity on defense.
“Be better in our pick-and-roll coverages. I thought they were poor in the exhibition game,” Stevens said. “And then, making good decisions playing with that tempo.”
Part of that decision-making Stevens was referring to, involves doing a better job of communicating on the floor.
“Reading when we need to be attached to our guy when they’re coming out of corner or when we need to pull over … stuff like that usually happens in your first preseason game,” said Gordon Hayward.
And with it being the first game, the scouting report wasn’t nearly as useful as it usually is due to so many players with new teams in different roles running different sets offensively that may not necessarily be holdovers from the previous season.
“We’ll get better at it,” Hayward said.
We’ll find out on Friday when they travel to Orlando to take on the Orlando Magic, who will have played a couple of games by then.
Unlike the Hornets, the Magic bring back most of their core players from a year ago, including All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, sixth-man stud Terrence Ross, as well as a pair of blossoming wings in Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac.
Orlando establishing that continuity only increases the degree of difficulty the Celtics will have in finding a path towards victory on Friday.
And while players will tell you they are not consumed much by winning or losing in the preseason because the minutes of the top players are limited, the goal every time they step on the floor is their part in getting a victory.
“You want to score and show what you can do, always,” Boston’s Kemba Walker told NBC Sports Boston’s A. Sherrod Blakely. “But you always want to win, always. It doesn’t matter if you play two minutes or the whole game, you always want your team to come out on top. That never changes.”
For the Celtics, hopefully the same won’t be said for their defense, which we knew going into the season would be challenged in ways we have not seen recently.
Boston traded Aron Baynes to Phoenix, ridding itself of one of the league’s premier interior defenders who has ranked among the league leaders in defensive rating the last two seasons with the Celtics.
Al Horford decided to opt-out of the final year of his contract with Boston, and went on to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Horford and Baynes last season, the Celtics' defensive rating of 107.0 ranked sixth in the NBA. Boston also ranked in the top-10 in a number of other defensive categories such as steals (8.6, 4th in the league) and blocks (5.3, 10th in the NBA) per game.
Boston did not find a replacement for either player, but instead decided to go with a bigs-by-committee approach this season which includes Enes Kanter, Vincent Poirier, rookie first-round pick Grant Williams as well as holdovers Robert Williams III and Daniel Theis.
All showed signs of promise in Boston’s win over the Hornets, but there were clear and undeniable shortcomings, too.
Dismissing it as first-game jitters doesn’t do the Celtics and their efforts to be a better-than-average defense any good this season.
They need to continue to focus on improving at that end of the floor if they are to have a season that will be deemed a successful one when it’s all said and done.
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