Defense no longer Celtics' identity

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Defense no longer Celtics' identity

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

HOUSTON When you look at all the changes the Boston Celtics have made lately, it's clear that they have added more weapons offensively.

But at what cost?

The Celtics are still one of the NBA's upper echelon teams defensively, even with all the new faces.

But as far as defense remaining this team's identity?

The more you watch them play, the more this point becomes debatable.

You can add one more reason to question this team's foundation being about defense, following Friday night's 93-77 loss at Houston.

Houston only shot 43.8 percent from the field, and scored less than 100 points - the kind of defensive benchmarks you would ideally like to see every game.

But what's lost in the numbers, is how that defense was impacted by the Celtics offense not getting off to a good start.

Houston opened the game with an 8-1 spurt, fueled in large part by the Celtics' inability to make shots that on most nights, usually fall in.

Those missed shots seemed to result in some frustration that eventually seeped into the team's defensive efforts.

And just like that, the Celtics found themselves on the short end of a potential blowout - before halftime.

"We showed them seven, point-blank shots at the basket (at halftime) that didn't go in," Rivers said. "I thought we got a little frustrated because we were missing shots."

Rivers added, "that's uncharacteristic of us. But I definitely thought our offense led to our bad defense."

That is a damning commentary when you consider how much stock the Celtics put into being a stout, gritty defensive-minded team.

"Even though we missed shots, we missed lay-ups, that should never discourage us of how we play night-in and night-out on the defensive end," said Paul Pierce. "We got our work cut out for us if we want to retain home court (throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs), if we want to be on top of the East. We have to wake up inside if we're going to consistently play the type of Celtics defense that got us this record."

Kevin Garnett is the anchor of the Celtics defense, which has been among the NBA's best ever since Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces with Paul Pierce to form the Big Three in 2007.

And as much as Garnett prides himself and his teammates in putting defense first, he can't say with any degree of certainty whether or not the C's allowed their offensive woes early on against the Rockets impact their play at the other end of the floor.

"I want to say no, because we're a defensive team and we can't let offense dictate defense," Garnett said. "But it certainly seemed that way. They got into an early rhythm and it was hard to turn them off."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Fast-break points aren't necessarily a good thing for Celtics

Fast-break points aren't necessarily a good thing for Celtics

BOSTON – Conventional NBA wisdom tells you that getting out to score in transition is a good thing, usually serving as easy points scored, which is what every team wants, right?
 
But bundles of transition points have been nothing but trouble for the Celtics this season.
 
They are coming off a game against the New York Knicks in which they scored 22 fast-break points, which was their second-best showing this season. But the final score, a 117-106 loss, wasn’t all that unusual from what has happened this season when their transition game has generated a decent amount of scoring.
 
Boston has a 2-6 record this season when they score 16 or more fast-break points. On the nights when Boston’s fast-break offense generates 10 or fewer points?
 
They’re 11-5.
 
While there are several possible reasons why this is, here’s what you have to remember.
 
The Celtics are a ball-movement, 3-point shooting team.
 
Often that means they’ll pass up potential shots in transition, to instead work the ball around from one side of the floor to the other, until they get what they deem is the best shot to take (usually it’s a lightly contested to wide open 3-pointer).
 
The Celtics average 329.6 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.8). Not surprisingly, that has led to them ranking among the league’s leaders in assists (24.9, third in the NBA).
 
And that has led to Boston being ranked among the top-3 in several other key passing statistics, such as secondary assists (7.1, 2nd in the NBA); potential assists (49.5, 2nd); and assists points created (60.8, 3rd);
 
Here are a few more stats to crunch on, courtesy of CSN Associate Producer Andy Levine.
 
PAINT BY NUMBERS: When the Celtics score 40 percent or less of their points in the paint, they are 19-5 this season. When Boston gets 40 percent or more of its points in the paint, they are just 7-11.
 
BROWN IN THE FOURTH: Jaylen Brown has been among the better rookies this season, especially in the fourth quarter. Among rookies who played in at least 20 games in the fourth quarter, Brown is second in fourth quarter shooting at 54.9 percent. With those same standards, he’s sixth in shooting 3’s in the fourth at 38.5 percent.
 
CROWDER BOUNCES BACK: The past four games has seemingly brought out the best in Crowder. In that span, he has averaged 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range. Crowder’s 3-point shooting of late has elevated him to seventh in the league while connecting on 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts (minimum 150 attempts).

OUCH! It has not been a smooth start for Evan Turner with his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers. This season, Turner’s plus/minus is -234, which is the fourth-worst plus/minus in the NBA.
 
 

Stevens: Bradley, Zeller, Jerebko out vs. Trail Blazers

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Stevens: Bradley, Zeller, Jerebko out vs. Trail Blazers

BOSTON – Before Brad Stevens addressed the media before the Celtics faced the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday afternoon, he had to take a moment to make sure he wouldn’t forget anyone who wasn’t able to play.
 
Yeah, the list was a pretty long one.
 
Tyler Zeller, Demetrius Jackson and Jonas Jerebko will not play tonight due to sickness. And Avery Bradley (right Achilles strain) will also be out with a timetable that’s starting to feel like it’ll be longer than anyone would want.
 
“I don’t anticipate Avery this week at all,” Stevens said. “He still has some soreness. Obviously we’re concerned about the long-term impact of a sore Achilles; what it means on that foot but also what it means when you compensate off it. But he’ll be back when he’s ready but I think he’s still a little bit away.”
 
Bradley, the team’s top on-the-ball defender and No. 2 scorer this season at 17.7 points per game, will be out for the sixth time in the Celtics’ last seven games because of the Achilles injury.
 
Replacing him in the starting lineup will be Marcus Smart whose status for tonight’s game wasn’t a sure thing.
 
On the Celtics’ pregame notes package, Smart was listed as probable with a sore right ankle injury. I asked Stevens about Smart’s status a few minutes ago, and he said the 6-foot-4 Smart will play tonight.
 
In his 15 starts this season, Smart has averaged 10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 38.4 percent from the field and 31.7 percent on 3's - all of which are better than what he produces when coming off the bench.