BOSTON Establishing an identity has been one of the many challenges the Boston Celtics' second unit has had this season.
Nearing the halfway point of the season, it's clear that it is their defense that's fueling their success of late. The fact that this has indeed become their identity is surprising when you consider the C's top backups are primarily established scorers who are not considered extremely strong defenders.
Look no further than their leader Jason Terry who ranks 4th all-time in 3-pointers made (1,846).
"We found our identity," Terry said. "Our identity is on the defensive end."
The improved play of the Celtics second unit can be seen in how they have been able to dominate games recently. Boston's second unit has a margin of plus-8.8 points per game during their current five-game winning streak. Hoopsstats.com also lists the C's bench as having the highest efficiency difference (plus-23) in the last five games played.
More than anything else, the Celtics are doing a better job of contesting shots and forcing teams to get into their offense much later than they would like to.
A key to that second unit defense has been Courtney Lee who is the teams' second best on-the-ball defender behind Avery Bradley, a tandem that Doc Rivers has gone to at times that has produced really positive results.
"When you got me and Avery pressing the length of the court, there's like 10, 11 seconds on the clock by the time they make that first pass," Lee told CSNNE.com. "It's hard to get a good shot off in that little bit of time, so that's been huge for us."
And strong play defensively has opened the door for even better play by the second unit offensively.
In the last five games, the Celtics have shot 50 percent from the field on mid-range jumpers which is tops in the NBA.
Boston has also improved their scoring around the basket as the C's have made 49 percent of their shots inside the paint but not in the restricted area. That ranks fifth in the league.
"We're starting to get a little rhythm and consistency with that group," Terry said of the C's backups. "But again, that's the group that was put together from Day one and that's the group that has the most chemistry because we played together in training camp, early on in the season.
Terry added, "we're a little ahead of the curve right now. It's still a work in progress now. We still don't really have an offense when that group goes in now. But we know one thing we're going to do; we're going to defend like crazy."
Which for a group known for its shooters and void of having a lot of established defensive stoppers, is indeed impressive.
And maintaining that identity will be put to the test again tonight against a Charlotte club that has struggled most of the season, but plays with great effort.
"If we come out and play Celtics defense," Terry said, "they're going to have a tough time."