Celtics

What's ailing the Celtics' defense? Here are some theories

What's ailing the Celtics' defense? Here are some theories

BOSTON — Having clawed their way back from 16 points down to make it a one-possession game with a minute to play, the Boston Celtics needed against Phoenix on Saturday what used to be a given in these stressful moments: a defensive stop.

As Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges’ fadeaway jumper in the paint left his fingertips and hung on the rim’s lip for what seemed like an eternity, there was a moment in time when the chances of that ball dropping through the net were just as good as they were for it to roll out. 

It eventually fell through the net, the Celtics went on to lose 123-119, and the team’s defense once again came up short when they were most needed.

In that possession, like so many lately, the Celtics did most of what was necessary. But this team isn’t built to be successful by just doing a pretty good job. 

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The margin for error to be one of the NBA's best teams is razor thin. That's partly why many of their losses of late fall into the good, but not good enough to win, category. 

“I mean, there’s 50 things to do on a possession,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “Right now we’re doing about 46 on our best ones, and we need to do 50.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. 

It’s not like it’s one or two of the same things that are problematic for their defense — which, by the way, not so long ago was considered one of the league's best. 

The Celtics' defensive rating of 105.6 still puts them at the fifth-best in the NBA this season.  But over the last eight games, that shot up to 111.8, which ranks 16th in the league during that span. 

It hasn’t helped that most of the teams Boston has faced lately, have come into the game playing some of their best basketball of the season. The Suns for example, have struggled for most of the season but won three of four headed into Saturday. 

That may be a factor. But players are quick to point out that the bigger issues defensively stem from a lack of the consistency we'd seen earlier this season. 

“Just not really running our system on the defensive end,” Marcus Smart said. “You know we gave up a lot of easy, easy, easy lay-ups at the rim. Guys are supposed to be pulled in and it’s like we don’t know what we are doing out there and that’s a problem. 

"We’re not really holding guys accountable on the defensive end. We can score the ball with the best of them but for some reason we are allowing, when we go in those rolls, we’re missing (shots) to affect our defense.”

Gordon Hayward added, “For whatever reason guys are scoring on us at a high clip so we have to figure what we have to do to shut that down.”

There are ample factors contributing to the team’s defensive struggles of late. Stevens knows what has to get better for his team at that end of the floor. 

“Everything,” he said. “I just … everything. Just every … every single angle you take on a pick-and-roll, how much you get into the body, how much do you chase, how, when do you switch, how high are you as a big, when do you step back, how you guard the down-screen, do you trail it? Do you go under it? Do you meet them on a catch? What do you do?”

For Boston to get back on that track, the jobs to be done lie on the defensive side of the ball. 

“It takes everybody, you know, and it’s not easy,” Smart said. “You know, coming in you’ve got a team that’s really talented. They’re coming in to play and beat you so we got to be on top of our games and we just got to understand that we’re going to have nights where we don’t shoot the ball well but we can’t have nights where we just don’t bring it on the defensive end.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Monday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Jayson Tatum shares best moments from first All-Star Game on Instagram

Jayson Tatum shares best moments from first All-Star Game on Instagram

Jayson Tatum's maturity on the court this season helped earn him a spot in the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.

But the morning after, the Boston Celtics forward reacted as any 21-year-old kid would: He posted on Instagram.

Here's Tatum recapping his first NBA All-Star Game, in which he added six points, three assists and three steals in 14 minutes for Team LeBron, which defeated Team Giannis 157-155:

"WOW... just played in my first All-Star game! Dreams do come true! Thankful," Tatum wrote in the caption.

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The third-year forward also shared several memorable photos, including a shot of him backing down Celtics teammate Kemba Walker (the starting point guard for Team Giannis) and a picture of him posing with veteran guard Chris Paul.

The relationships Tatum forged (and maintained) at his first All-Star weekend were far more important than his play on the court, and it sounds like budding young star made the most of his opportunity.

Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Stars honor Kobe Bryant with well-played All-Star game

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USA Today Sports Images

Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Stars honor Kobe Bryant with well-played All-Star game

CHICAGO -- The untimely death of Kobe Bryant was the theme leading up to Sunday night’s All-Star game which was won by Team LeBron, 157-155.

The night began with a series of tributes to Bryant which included a stirring speech given by Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

Throughout Johnson’s speech, there was the occasional “Ko-be, Ko-be, Ko-be!” chant from the stands.

And the actual game itself was one of the better-played All-Star games in recent memory courtesy of a new format that seemed to go over well with all involved. 

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The game came down to big shots and big stops by both teams, a fitting end to the night considering how all involved wanted to honor Kobe Bryant and did just that with a brand of basketball that in many ways was part of the Kobe narrative of elite play at both ends of the floor. 

Chris Paul acknowledged the challenge of playing the game at a high level and not think about Bryant who was a major influence for many of today’s All-Star players. 

“It was tough early, especially early,” Paul said. “For a lot of us, it's still surreal. It's not real until you start showing pictures and talking about it. But I think the best way we could honor Kobe, Gigi, and everyone involved was to play like we played, you know what I Mean? Me and Russ (Russell Westbrook) kept talking about it, that's one thing about Kobe, whenever he was on our team in the All-Star Game, there wasn't none of that cool stuff. There wasn't none of that. It was like, as long as they throw the ball up, let's get to it.”

LeBron James added, “You could definitely feel his presence just from the start. From every moment from the fans chanting his name till you seen the numbers. Every time you saw Giannis' team run on the floor, you saw the 2-4. So he was definitely here.”

Former NBA All-Star Richard “Rip” Hamilton was among those in attendance at the game. 

He and Bryant were both prep stars who grew up competing with and against each other in Pennsylvania and were at times roommates during all-star competitions.

Hamilton acknowledged he still hasn’t fully come to grips with what happened to Bryant and the others. 

“It hurt me, man, it hurt me to my core,” Hamiton told NBC Sports Boston. “And I still haven’t fully recovered from it. Him and I go back way before the NBA and the glitz and glamor and everything else. It’s a thing that … it still impacts me to this day.”

And once the current crop of All-Star players stepped on the floor, Team Giannis wore jersey number 24 (Kobe Bryant’s number) while Team LeBron wore jersey number 2 (the number of GiGi Bryant, Kobe’s daughter). 

Boston’s Jayson Tatum is among the many players on the floor whose game was heavily influenced by Bryant who along with his daughter Gigi, was killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. 

The relationship between Tatum and Bryant had grown into a friendship strengthened by Bryant’s interest in mentoring Tatum who has never shied away from acknowledging how influential Bryant has been in his life, both on the court as well as off the court since coming into the NBA. 

“He was the reason I started playing basketball,” Tatum said recently. “To have him reach out and try and help me, wanna work with me was something I would never forget.”