“We defend the three. Our whole thing is no threes and no points in the paint,” – Doc Rivers, December 2010
Rivers is a man of his word when it comes to his team’s defense. While the C’s ability to defend in the paint has been touch and go since shipping off Kendrick Perkins back in 2011 to Oklahoma City, Boston has always held its ground defending the arc during the Big Three era. It’s a trademark of any stingy defensive team, knowing the value of the trey and how much damage your opponent can inflict on you with it. Boston’s numbers in the past five years defending the 3-point shot back up that premise:
2007-08: 31.6% (1st)
2008-09: 34.9% (5th)
2009-10: 34.2% (4th)
2010-11: 34.0% (5th)
2011-12: 30.8% (1st)
There’s been plenty of different names and faces in the green over those five years, so for this squad to maintain that level of consistency limiting teams on the perimeter over the past five years is beyond impressive. It’s also a testament to this team’s defensive philosophy and belief. Not coincidentally, the team has held a top-5 defensive efficiency over those past five seasons. Naturally, there were numerous other defensive areas Boston did well during those years (forcing turnovers, top-10 defensive rebounding rate) but it was always the team’s defensive eFG that stood out the most over the timespan. That number proved to be strong in large part because of the deflated 3-point percentage opponents held.
Through Boston’s first 14 games this season however, it’s no secret the team’s defense has taken a tremendous step back, dropping to 22nd overall in defensive efficency. In a related story, Boston has 3-point FG defense has dropped to 37.3%, good for 22nd in the league. Doc Rivers minced no words on the cause of the drop after Wednesday’s loss against San Antonio in which the Spurs shot a scoring 50 percent (8-of-16) from beyond the arc:
“That’s us. A lot of it is pick-and-roll. When you look at San Antonio, every single one of their 3’s came off of our pick and roll coverage. We have to be better,” Rivers said.
Part of the struggles can likely be attributed to new members of the team struggling to pick up the team’s offensive schemes. A lot of these players (Leandro Barbosa, Jason Terry) are not known for their defensive prowess and don’t challenge shots like the more defensive minded players that came off the team’s bench in years past (Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Mickael Pietrus).
With that said though, Boston’s defense will continue to struggle for as long as that 3-point percentage number remains in the bottom half of the league. The C’s will never be a great interior defensive team as constituted now, largely due to their lack of size in frontcourt personnel. Once the team figures out the pick-and-roll defense though, the 3-point open looks for opponents should drop and so should the percentage. Until it does though, Boston will no be able to recover their defensive identity from the past few years.