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. 

WATCH: Celtics vs. Suns

WATCH: Celtics vs. Suns

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics host the Wizards in a game with huge playoff-seeding implications. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Suns preview: Boston focused on Phoenix, not playoff standings

Celtics-Suns preview: Boston focused on Phoenix, not playoff standings

BOSTON – Brad Stevens spent time talking to his team on Thursday about what everyone around them will be talking about between now and the playoffs – catching Cleveland. 

After Boston’s 109-100 win over Indiana and Cleveland’s 126-113 loss at Denver on Wednesday, the Celtics (46-26) are now just one game behind the Cavs (46-24) for the best record in the East. The Celtics hope to continue on their winning ways tonight against Phoenix which is coming off a 126-98 loss at Brooklyn on Thursday night.

As cool as landing that top seed overall in the East would be for the Celtics, Stevens is well aware that it can be a huge distraction that impacts their chances negatively in continuing to play good basketball and rack up wins if there's too much attention paid to it. 

“What we need to focus on is preparing for our next opponent,” Stevens said. “Our focus needs to be on Phoenix, not on anything else.”

The Celtics have already experienced the downside of what can happen if you pay too close attention to playoff positioning. 

Earlier this month, Boston began losing ground as the second-best team in the East to Washington, which eventually moved ahead of Boston briefly during a stretch in which the Celtics lost three of four games. 

“All we did was look at the standings, everyone looking at the standings,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “But we were losing games; we weren’t focused. We came together as a group, and said we can’t worry about where we are. Let’s worry about that when the time is right. Right now, we need to focus on every game and focus on getting better as a team.”

While that may be the Celtics’ collective purpose right now, it's hard to imagine that Boston can completely look past the fact that they can wind up with the best record in the East despite all the injuries, illnesses and stretches of inconsistent play they have had this season.

At least one player – Isaiah Thomas – has no plans of trying to ignore what’s happening around the NBA in regards to other team’s playoff position and how that relates to the Celtics who are focused on finishing with at least one of the top-two seeds in the East. 

“That’s the ultimate goal; get the best seed you possibly can whatever that is,” Thomas said. “We have a chance at number one, we’re a game behind them (Cavaliers). But at the same time, we just have to control what we can and worry about the things we can control and not worry about if Cleveland wins or loses.”

For Boston, the blueprint for success has already been laid out in these final 10 games, most (seven) of which are against teams that are .500 or worst record-wise.

“Just playing the same kind of basketball we played (against Indiana on Wednesday),” said Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. “Just hard on both ends of the floor, play together on both ends of the floor; just Celtics basketball.”

The Celtics might also have some added motivation against the Suns who beat them 109-106 as time expired earlier this season.

With the score tied at 106 with a few ticks left on the game clock, Thomas mishandled the in-bounds pass from Jae Crowder, resulting in the loose ball winding up in the hands of rookie Tyler Ulis who drained a game-winning 3-pointer. 

“It was a tough loss,” Thomas acknowledged. “But I’m the type of guy whether it’s good or bad, I forget about it the next day; I try to if I possibly can. That was a crazy ending, but things happen in the NBA. You just have to move on.”