• Rarely does a quote from a player or coach jump out at me as much as this one from Doc Rivers on the state of Boston’s defense (via Julian Benbow in the Globe):
“We fought all first half trying to guard the ball. Well, we don’t do that very well and that’s been proven through the year. So, the next step, if you don’t guard the ball well, the next guy has to be there every time a guy’s beat.’’
Whoa. The C’s can’t guard the ball? The numbers show this is the still the best defensive team in the league!
In any case, the theme of the day seems to be the team’s need to improve its help defense. Here’s Rajon in the same Globe piece:
“I think we’re a better help team now. We’re conscious of it. Doc has been drilling it night in, night out, telling us we have to be a better help team. And on the ball defensively, we just have to take a stand.’’
And here’s KG in Steve Bulpett’s similar piece in the Herald:
“The key to us has been the communication. It hasn’t been this constant and this loud.
“I can definitely say it’s been different from January, December and November. Coming back from the All-Star break we talked about things we wanted to do short term, and I think we’re starting to do them instead of talking about them.”
One more, from Perk (in the Herald): “Our defense has been on point. We’re not taking possessions off. Even when we’re not scoring, we’re still defending well. Guys are just helping each other.”
Question: When exactly did the C’s defense become some sort of crisis?
Honestly? I’m not sure it ever did. The team still leads the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession), and their screen/roll defense looks the same to me as it did last season and (at times) the season before.
But Doc is right that, individually, the C’s aren’t as strong defensively at two positions as they were in ’08: small forward and power forward. Both Pierce and KG are dealing with nagging injuries, and they aren’t playing the same kind of defense they were playing 24 months ago. Even a year ago, Henry Abbott (of TrueHoop) said to me in an email exchange that one could make an argument for Pierce to be first-team All-Defense.
That’s not the case anymore.
But the NBA isn’t really about individual defense. Rajon Rondo is never going to be able to fight over every screen and keep point guards in front of him on every possession. Defense in the NBA is about, more than anything, the rotations that happen after a point guard gets by Rajon on a screen/roll, and the C’s are still better at that than anyone when they’re on their game.
But hey: If a re-emphasis on help and communication helps the team’s overall concentration level—on both sides—that’s fine with me.
• Speaking of which, Benbow notes one nice trend in the C’s post-All-Star road swing:
Their turnovers are down to 12.3 in their three games since the break. “Coming back from the All-Star break, we talked about things we wanted to do short-term. I think we’re starting to do them versus talking about it.’’
Ah, the offense—that’s where the real problems have emerged lately. The team is scoring about 107 points per 100 possessions, a mark that ranks 15th in the league going into today’s game at Denver. That’s league average, and cutting a turnover or two per game would make a huge difference in getting this offense back to where it belongs.
Asked to compare these Celtics to the 2008 champs, Lakers forward Pau Gasol said: “Three years older and three years later…“They have to prove it themselves. It’s going to be tough. They got Orlando. They got Atlanta. They’ve struggled against Atlanta this year and got swept there. They got Cleveland, of course. You can make your own conclusions there.”
I like Pau Gasol. I think he’s one of the 10 or 12 best players in the league. And it’s hard to argue with anything he says here, except for the fact that he is not that great at math. I’m no John Nash, but I believe the C’s are two years older, not three, since they won the title in 2008. But I could be wrong.
• Steve Bulpett in the Herald sounds a bit like Gasol (kidding) in sounding the alarm about KG:
Now Garnett hesitates, and often passes out instead of going up with the ball. The Celtics are now the second-worst rebounding team in the NBA. Could there be a more ominous indictment of what the Celtics are not getting from their heart and soul?
Garnett may not want to talk about it, but he, too, is bothered by the draining combination of subpar health and sagging confidence.
Bulpett knows this club as well as anyone. Let’s just move on.
• As you surely know by now, Eddie House had a monster debut for the Knicks last night—24 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Vintage Eddie, and the game has some fans/commenters wondering if Boston made a mistake in the House/Nate Robinson deal. They didn’t. One game doesn’t change the fact that Nate Robinson is a better player than Eddie House, and if you watched that one game, you’d have seen that the Thunder repeatedly took advantage of House’s defense (and that of fellow new Knick Sergio Rodriguez).
That said, it was tough to watch Eddie making clutch shots for a 19-35 team instead of an elite Boston club that had come to feel like Eddie’s first true home in the league.
• Jay King of CelticsTown reflects on his favorite Eddie memory.
That’s it for today. The Denver game tips in less than three hours. Can the C’s pull off a 4-0 road trip?