The Celtics are currently sitting right around .500, somewhere they’ve been trying to claw above most of the season. They’ve faced a number of challenges including shooting, injuries, and overall inconsistencies. The one thing they have found success in lately though, is defense.
This year, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka implemented a switch everything system. The Warriors found success switching everything during their dynasty. Their success mainly focused around two things, Draymond Green and size/reach. Now, there is no replicant for Draymond Green; defensively he is a scheme all in himself and currently is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. What the Celtics do have is the other personnel. The Celtics have a number of wing players that have the size and reach, making switching effective.
Early in the year, the Celtics struggled with their new scheme. They were switching off of screens, but giving way too much space. They lacked the tenacity and attentiveness necessary for a switching defense to be successful. Against Dallas specifically, the Celtics defense had trouble staying up on shooters, giving them nearly anything they wanted. Recently this has changed. The team is currently 7th in defensive points per possession and 11th in defensive effective field goal percentage. This isn’t necessarily amazing, given the recent loss to Brooklyn, but it is a step in the right direction. They just need to find consistency.
Consistency will start to come as lineups start to become more stable. The Celtics have four different lineups over 100 possessions this season. This is partly due to injury, but also due to the fact that other players are finding their roles. Grant Williams was a player many wanted off the team last year, but is now proving to be a force from three and defensively. His role can be compared to that of P.J. Tucker’s in Milwaukee last year. He’s a notable pest on defense and often forgotten about on offense. This usually leaves him open in the corner, a shot that Williams is making 52% of the time, which is best in the league.
The other, and perhaps most important, factor of this defense is the resurgence of Al Horford. His age is a usual topic of discussion as he is performing similar to that of someone 10 years younger. Most significantly, he is the fulcrum of the defense. Currently, he is 9th in the league in individual defensive rating at 101.8. He’s also 7th in total blocked shots. He can be a help defender, giving rim protection, or be a stopper on ball in the right situation. So far this season, opponent offensive rebounds and points per possession both go down decent amounts when he is on the floor. On top of his individual performances, he is a proven mentor, and leader in Boston, made evident from his last sint and this year as well.
This season is young but things are starting to come into form. The team needs to find its overall identity and is starting to find that with defense. The offensive struggles will evidently come and go. If the Celtics can truly anchor around their defense, it will provide a much stronger foundation heading into the meat of the schedule.
Photo: (David Richard – USA TODAY Sports)
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