Tag: Celtics Defense

Nenad Krstic foul

Should the Celtics be worried about their defense?


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.

NBA Season Preview: The Boston Celtics


Thumbnail image for Pierce_celebrate.jpgLast season: 50-32 during the regular season, but 17-17 down the stretch as key players got rest and healthy for the playoffs. Then they played like the 2008 Celtics in the postseason and advanced all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals before falling.

Head Coach: Doc Rivers, back for what may well be his final season. That may come up in motivational speeches by team members.

Key Departures: Tony Allen will be missed; Rasheed Wallace will only be missed by sports talk radio hosts on a slow day looking to piss off Celtics faithful by bringing him up.

Key Additions: Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal, who will bring some scoring to the Celtics front line that Kendrick Perkins could not. They will not bring his defense, however. Also added were DeLonte West and Von Wafer, the former of which will make good contributions.

We also need to note under additions that they kept the core of this team together. Boston could have let Paul Pierce and Ray Allen go and started to rebuild this team around Rajon Rondo, but they brought everybody back for a couple years and a couple more runs at it. Then the rebuilding will start.

Best case scenario: An NBA Championship. They were within one game of it last year and may have pulled it off if Kendrick Perkins had been healthy for Game 7 in Los Angeles. (But the Lakers dealt with injuries, too, so it’s a slippery slope.) This team is poised to make two more runs at a title, then the rebuilding will start in Boston.

For that to happen: Two key things will have to take place. First, this team has to stay healthy. That is true of the contenders in Miami and Los Angeles and everywhere else, too, but it is particularly key for a Celtics squad just slightly younger than Dick Bavetta.

The health thing starts with Kevin Garnett coming back healthy enough to be 90 percent of his 2008 self. He is still the heart and soul of this team, he is the guy who makes the defense work, who can get some easy buckets in the halfcourt. Along with that, Kendrick Perkins needs to come back and by the playoffs be close to the defensive force that he was before Game 6 of the finals last season. And, of course, no other key players can go down with big injuries.

The other key thing is that the Celtics defense has to remain as good as any in the league. It is going to have to do that with Lawrence Frank in charge of it, not Tom Thibodeau. It is going to have to be that way with Shaquille O’Neal and his defensive freelancing, his terrible pick-and-roll defense, getting key minutes. It’s going to have to be that good with Jermaine O’Neal as the starting center. It’s going to need that healthy Garnett we talked about before.

If the defense slips, so does Boston. It’s that simple.

More likely the Celtics will: Be right in there for an NBA title run. Just like in the paragraphs above. This team is one of your handful that is a legitimate title contender. There are questions to be answered, things that need to go their way, but they are in the mix. That is all you can ask to start the season.

I expect Rajon Rondo to continue is upward climb, to become more of the key cog of this team on offense.

Boston is going to need to work on integrating those additions. Particularly the two O’Neals along the front line — those two will bring more offense out of the five spot than the Celtics have seen in the Big 3 era. But neither of them are defensively focused. DeLonte West again is a good fit but will need to blend in. When Perkins comes back the front line rotations will need to be figured out and stabilized.

Still this is the core of a team that went to Game 7 of the NBA finals last season and won a title a couple years ago. This team knows how to answer the questions that are out there. If they can hold up physically, they will be able to answer them. They will be contenders.

There will come a time this season when the Celtics play .500 ball or below for 20 games or so. And we will all put our short memories on display. We will say they don’t look like contenders and this is different than last season, different than 2008. And Rivers will ignore everyone and work on getting guys rested and healthy for the playoffs. He knows if they are, they will be right there, knocking on the door of another banner for the crowded rafters.

Prediction: 50 wins. Same as last year. Certainly, the Celtics could easily win more, but like last season the focus by the Celtics will be less on the regular season and more on being healthy and rested come the playoffs. The depth up front could give them more wins, but the East is deeper too so there will be fewer nights when they win by just walking on the court. I think it all balances itself out.

Basically the same team as last year. One capable of winning a title if things go right.

Will the Celtics defense be as good next year?


celtics_defense.jpgFor all the talk about getting the old gang back together in Boston for one more run, it isn’t exactly the same old gang that is coming back next year.

And the changes that are coming could cut right to the core of what won Boston one title and almost two — great defense.

Jeff Clark over at Celtics blog takes a good look at the question, which really is a series of questions. The first one is — how big a loss is Tom Thibodeau, and can Lawrence Frank keep the defense going?

Frank is a diligent worker with head coaching experience.  He’ll provide a different voice and perhaps take a fresh approach to the lead assistant position.  However, he’s not Tom Thibodeau and perhaps he shouldn’t be expected to be just like Tom.  For the last three years Tom has essentially played the role of Defensive Coordinator, but most teams don’t define roles that strictly.  Frank is certainly going to help out with the defense, but he’ll have some say in the offense as well.  In fact as I’ve mentioned, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him groomed to take over for Doc if and when he leaves.  It remains to be seen if the loss of Thibodeau will hurt the team or if they’ll actually benefit from a fresh take.

Then there is the center spot — you can’t have a good defense in today’s slashing NBA without a long-armed big man protecting the rim.

Kendrick Perkins was that big body, and may be again late in the season. In the interim, Jermaine O’Neal gets that role. He is not Perkins, but he is not a bad defender either. He’s solid. In the right system with defined roles where his rotations are clear, he can do the job well enough.

Behind him is Shaquille O’Neal. Doc Rivers is already on record worried about teams pick-and-rolling Shaq into the ground. But the other problem is he has long been a freelancer on defense, not someone who has stuck with a system but looked for his own play. He makes them, sometimes, he’s fairly smart about it. But the Celtics system is built around rotations Shaq may well ignore.

That may be an issue.

But the biggest issue — as it is with all things Celtics — is health. If Kevin Garnett is healthy, the Celtics defense is going to be fine. If he is out, things drop off fast.

Readers on Celtics blog expect the team defense to be about the same with these new Celtics. I don’t see it, I think there is some regular season drop off. But that’s not the point — if all the key players are healthy come the playoffs, the Boston defense will be stifling teams once again. And Boston will be a title threat.

NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 7: Boston closed their eyes and it slipped away


Garnett_sad.jpgIt’s a very bitter taste for a team that remembers the sweet taste of champagne.

It’s made worse by knowing that they had a 13-point lead in the third quarter. Worse by knowing that this team may never be together in this form again. Worse by knowing that Ray Allen went 3 for 14 in what likely will be his final game in a Celtics uniform.

Worse because for the first time this playoffs, Boston actually looked old.

“Well, there was a lot of crying in our locker room, a lot of people who care…” Doc Rivers said after an 83-79 loss at a game played right at the Celtics pace. “I just can’t stress enough how crazy close this team was, you know, and that would be the word, crazy close. They’re the type of group that they could scream at each other but no one picks on any of them. That’s a special group.”

They played special at the start. Boston came out playing physically on defense, taking away the Lakers primary options, forcing the Lakers to shoot 22 percent in the first quarter. Kobe Bryant wanted desperately to put his imprint on the game and the Celtics had a game plan to take the ball out of his hands. Boston trapped him, they pushed him off his spots, they gave him no space and he shot 1 for 7 in the first quarter. And Boston was up 9 after one.

That defensive effort continued through the third quarter, and the fans Staples were on edge. It wasn’t pretty, and the Celtics were fine with that. The Lakers would make a mini-run and the Celtics would make a couple stops, a couple baskets and re-establish themselves. Boston was the better team. They were getting some transition points and they were up 13.

But the size of the Lakers kept wearing on a Boston team that missed Kendrick Perkins.

“I thought the lack of size at the end of the of the day was the difference in the game,” Rivers said. “I thought a couple things hurt us – when Rasheed started getting cramps, that was killer for us because they attacked out lack of size after that, and then it made me, forced me to extend Kevin (Garnett’s) minutes, which I know is not good.”

Pau Gasol, “befuddled” by Rasheed Wallace in the first half (to use Phil Jackson’s term), started to come to life. The Lakers were making their big run. Boston could no longer run its offense through the post because the Celtics big men were too tired to be effective, Rivers said.

So when Boston needed points, they turned to Allen. And he missed. The guy that won them Game 2 with his shooting was 3 of 14 on the night, 2 of 5 in the fourth quarter. Missing at the rim and from three.

It may well be Allen’s last game as a Celtic (although he said he wants to be back), he is an unrestricted free agent this summer and other teams are likely to pay more than a Boston team that needs to start getting younger. It was an ugly way to go out, looking old.

“It’s hard to see it end this way,” Allen said.

It wasn’t just Allen, either.

“You know, it’s the fist time all year that you can actually say at the end of the day we were old because at the end of the game because we didn’t have enough bodies,” Rivers said, referring to Perkins. “I thought it hurt us.”

It hurt them a lot. To the point of tears.