Beyond the numbers: Celtics defense looking playoff ready

Beyond the numbers: Celtics defense looking playoff ready

There’s no getting around the Boston Celtics’ quest for the top overall seed in the East, an effort that seems to be getting a little bit of a boost courtesy of Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue’s decision to rest his core guys (LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving) at different intervals in the final weeks of the season. 

With or without home court advantage, the Celtics will have to win on the road at some point in the postseason. It’s a good thing they’ve had plenty of practice, evident by them having already clinched a winning road record – a first for the Celtics since 2011. They’ll look to add to their road success tonight against a Philadelphia team which the Celtics have beaten on the road each of the last four matchups. 

And while the Celtics have won primarily with a high-powered offense this season, their success of late has been more of the grit-and-grind, defensively-charged brand of basketball that we see often in the playoffs. 

Here are four areas in which Boston’s defense has made progress on the road of late.

DEFENSIVE RATING

For the season, Boston’s defense has been at its best away from the TD Garden, posting a defensive rating on the road of 105.9 which ranks eighth in the NBA. Since the all-star break, Boston’s defense has been even more stifling away from the Garden with a rating of 102.7 which ranks fourth in the NBA.

REBOUND PERCENTAGE

Home or away, rebounding has been a struggle for Boston most of this season. The team’s rebounding percentage on the road this season is .477 which ranks 28th in the NBA. But since the all-star break, Boston has shown significant growth in this area which is critical to their improved play defensively. Since the break, Boston’s rebounding percentage is .501 which ranks 14th in the NBA. 

OPPONENT 3-POINT PERCENTAGE

Even with the inconsistent play Boston has had defensively this season, the Celtics’ ability to contest 3’s has been a strength. This season, they have limited opponents on the road to 33.4 percent shooting from 3-point range which ranks second in the league. Although they have been even better since the break in limiting teams to 31.3 percent shooting from 3-point range, although they have slipped to being No. 3 in the league in this category.

OPPONENT OFFENSIVE REBOUND PERCENTAGE

When it came to missed shots against the Boston Celtics, often that would be their best offense with the way Boston allowed teams to get second and third-shot opportunities. This season on the road, Boston opponents had an offensive rebound percentage of .248 which ranks 29th in the league. But since the all-star break, Boston has done a significantly better job in limiting opponents on the offensive glass as their opponent offensive rebound percentage has dropped to .206 which is the 10th-best mark in the NBA. 

Blakely: Celtics' success lies in balancing big-money deals with bargains

Blakely: Celtics' success lies in balancing big-money deals with bargains

BOSTON – When it comes to stockpiling talent, few in the NBA have done it better in the past couple of years than the Golden State Warriors, as evidenced by them winning two of the past three NBA championships.
 
In 2015, Andre Iguodala was the NBA Finals MVP but it was the play another reserve, Festus Ezeli, who in the third quarter of the decisive Game 6, scored eight of his 10 points and helped extend a two-point halftime edge into a 12-point lead going into the fourth in what eventually was an eight-point series-clinching victory.

MORE CELTICS

 We have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers make deep playoff runs led by their Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but the contributions of youngsters such as Matt Dellavedova (now in Milwaukee) also helped.
 
Indeed, often lost in the success of title-contending teams is how they manage to have enough max-salaried talent on the roster, while also augmenting the lineup with contributions from younger players or inexpensive veterans on team-friendly contracts.
 
Balancing the best of those two worlds is among the many reasons why the Celtics are considered a legit contender to get to the NBA Finals this season out of the East.
 
A lot has been made of the team’s signing of Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $127.8 million contract.

But what really makes the Celtics so special is how they have been able to add a max-salaried player each of the past two seasons (Al Horford and Hayward) at a time when the contributions of Isaiah Thomas ($6.26 million this year) and Jae Crowder ($6.8 million this season) are significant not only in terms of what they do on the floor but even more so in how little they make salary-wise relative to those contributions.
 
Boston getting the most out of talent playing on low-salary deals will be instrumental in their ability to build off the success of last season when the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2012.
 
And while the Warriors have achieved this by adding veterans on the cheap (David West), Boston has been more traditional from the standpoint of getting as much bang as they can from players on their rookie deals.
 
Boston currently has 16 players with guaranteed contracts.
 
Of that total, nine (Marcus Smart; Terry Rozier; Jaylen Brown; Ante Zizic; Abdel Nader; Jayson Tatum; Semi Ojeleye; Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele) are on their rookie contracts.
 
“You always need young guys,” Austin Ainge, the Celtics' director of player personnel, told CSNNE.com. “Your veteran guys make a lot of money and so you need some guys on rookie contracts to fill out your roster.”
 
This is especially true for teams that are in the hunt to win an NBA title.
 
Ainge recalled how the use of players on rookie deals was instrumental in Boston bringing home Banner 17 in 2008.
 
“We had [Rajon] Rondo and Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe and Big Baby [Glen Davis] in 2008,” Ainge said. “You need guys like that. You look at the teams in the finals the past few years, they’ve got some young guys on lower money contracts contributing. That’s important.”