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.
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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.”