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)