Should the Celtics be worried about their defense?

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This season, every contender has shown a chink in their armor. We talked about the Spurs defense struggling lately. Miami and Los Angeles have had ugly losses to weak teams. Chicago is untested and unproven in the playoff cauldron.

And Boston’s defense may be a concern.

Ever since the Kendrick Perkins trade there was the question of if the Celtics defense would be the same. Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward broke out the numbers and found that overall the defense is pretty close to what it was pre-trade.

However, overall includes the outlier of the Bucks scoring just 56 points Sunday (and with their terrible offense it is an outlier). Lowe takes that game out of the equation and finds Boston has allowed 102.8 points per 100 possessions since the trade. That’s not bad (it would be about 10th in the league) but it is worse than Boston’s season average of 97.7 (using Hoopdata’s numbers).

What’s more concerning is why the defense is worse.

1) Opponents are hitting a much better percentage of inside shots. In those nine games, teams have made 123-of-193 at the rim (63.7 percent). For the season, Boston ranks second in this category at a shade worse than 60 percent. That 63.7 percent mark would rank about 17th overall…. Another small red flag: Those nine foes have assisted on 58.5 percent of their close baskets, a huge jump from an average assist rate on close shots of about 51 percent for Boston’s opponents this season. No team has allowed an interior assist rate as high as 58.5 percent over the full season.

2) Opponents are shooting about 37 percent from three-point range during those nine games, up from a season average just shy of 34 percent. A small change, but perhaps a notable one, given the close relationship between a team’s interior defense and its ability to protect the three-point line.

We must point out that nine games is a very small sample size, so we want to be careful about jumping to conclusions. There also are mitigating factors, for example Nenad Krstic is not a bad interior defender and is working hard to learn the Celtics system and fit in. Shaquille O’Neal will be back for the playoffs and he certainly is a big body that can alter shots and change things in the paint. Finally, they still have Kevin Garnett healthy and he is the heart of the defense.

It’s no time to panic. But it is something to watch as we head toward the playoffs. Because it is a chink in the armor.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.