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The Avery Bradley Effect: Boston’s Defending the 3-Point Line Again

The Celtics have built themselves on defense during this championship era.  Defending the Three Ball has been the C’s top defensive priority given that it is the opposition’s most powerful weapon.  A look at the C’s numbers over the past five years illustrate that priority very well:

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)

Over the first quarter of the season however, this is something the Celtics’ defense had left by the wayside, as I wrote about back at the end of November.

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 enough for just 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.

2013, however, has been a much different story for the Boston Celtics on a variety of fronts, but especially on the defensive end of the ball.  Avery Bradley has returned to the lineup and Boston’s perimeter D has taken a tremendous step forward.  This is not a coincidence. 

From the start of the 2013 calendar year, the Celtics have played 28 games. They ranked second in defensive efficency over that timespan behind the Indiana Pacers, despite being one of the worst 10 defensive rebounding teams in the league. So how exactly have they overcome that hurdle? They’re defending the arc again, and are doing it better than ever.

Since January 2nd, the Celtics have limited their opponents to just 30.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc, despite teams averaging over 20 attempts per game against them. The C’s opponents are taking plenty of 3-balls and aren’t converting. That 30.7 percentage is tops in the NBA and it has also translated well into their overall FG defense. Teams are shooting just 42 percent against the C’s in 2013, yet again the top number in the NBA over that stretch.

Want more interesting numbers? The C’s defense was great in January with Rajon Rondo, but since he went down in late January, the team’s perimeter defense has been even better. In those 15 games without Rondo, the C’s opponents are hitting just 29.3(!) percent of their attempts from downtown.

Thanks to all of this, the C’s season numbers have improved dramatically in the last two months, rising from that 22nd mark early in the season, to fourth overall in the league with Boston’s opponents shooting 34 percent overall from downtown.

The common thread in all this? Avery Bradley has been back. Thanks in large part to him, the C’s defense has been better than ever. People can downplay the C’s postseason chances all they want, but if Doc Rivers continues to get these guys to defend at this high of a level, they’ll be able to hang with anyone in a playoff series. Stay tuned.

(Note: all numbers taken from nba.com/stats)

  • CelticsBIG3

    Good old B.Robb, not pessimistic like some writers. The Celtics defense has been nothing short of great and its allowed us to get out and run and outlet pass our way to easy buckets.

  • hydrofluoric

    I love it! I'd love it even more if Avery could be as dangerous on D without fouling so much, but falling into the penalty is the price we pay, I guess. (If we lead the league in FG% and don't have the top-ranked D, it's FTAs that are doing the damage..)

    That said, I'm glad the ticky-tack fouls AB accumulates are almost never in the act of shooting, instead interfering with dribble-penetration. Hard to get open 3s when you can't get the ball into the paint first.

  • Phil

    I wasn't totally sure how AB would build on his savior run from last year, but I'm pretty satisfied with what he's brought since his return. The defensive numbers before and after his return are impressive across the board. Even if he's at his offensive ceiling right now (which I doubt,) he has a major effect on every game he's involved in on the defensive side, and he'll continue to do that for the foreseeable future.

    Also, I really hope someone's compiling all of these Rondo stats to present a KG-like motivation package to him before next year. The fact that AB coming back saved the perimeter defense and Rondo going out actually helped a little shouldn't surprise anyone who watched Rondo on D this year. If Rondo doesn't get motivated by seeing the team play .

  • KillerGymRat

    Nice to see the incredible improvement in D singled out. I'd add Courtney Lee's name to that mix. When AB returned it was very obvious that Lee immediately learned from him how to smother the ball and really get into a guy to disrupt the flow of the offense without fouling. (IMO AB's ticky-tack fouls are a mix of being–at times–overly aggressive, and bad whistles. He gets a ton of phantom fouls).

    No team can improve that significantly just based on the play of a single player. The Warriors game was proof of this. AB spent most of the game on the bench with foul trouble but Curry never got going thanks to Lee, and even the improved effort of Terry (he's still not a good defender but he's definitely working hard out there).

    AB definitely deserves lots of credit, but even guys like Green have stepped it up and with Lee and AB on the perimeter it's certainly become the place opposing teams fear to tread.

  • dslack

    Why do you say the Celtics are in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding? They're league average in # of defensive rebounds, and (slightly) above average in defensive rebounding rate. Is it different if we only look at the recent part of the season?