Boston Celtics: The turning point – A new defensive identity
Did the Simmons tweet flip the switch and spark the Celtics into life? It’s impossible to know for sure, but probably not.
What we do know, however, is that the Celtics managed to turn their season around on the back of a variety of on-court factors. Though, if we were to identify the single most vital component for their renaissance, it would be the defense.
Against the Nets, Boston’s perimeter defense stifled Brooklyn’s shooters. They were connected on a string and switching relentlessly, forcing the Nets to just 37.8 percent shooting through the first three quarters of play. This defensive identity has been Boston’s calling card, and what’s catapulted them into being the hottest team in the NBA right now.
Since the new year, Boston’s defense has been elite. Over the last 14 games, the Celtics have had a defensive rating of 96.5 – good enough for first in the league. The next best defensive rating over that period has been OKC at 106.7. The Celtics have also held their opposition’s field goal percentage to 38.6 percent and points allowed to 95.4 over the aforementioned 14-game stretch.
As the old saying goes – ‘defense wins championships.’ It’s no surprise that the Celtics went 12-2 through that span of games.
Boston Celtics turning point: Improved Offense
While Boston’s red-hot form has undeniably been built upon the foundation of defense, they’ve actually been pretty good defensively all season long.
What plagued them was their offensive execution. It had become a glaring issue, especially late in games, where they ran far too many isolations and failed to generate good looks at the basket. This led to numerous late-game collapses and an array of blown leads.
To counter these prolonged stretches of stagnant offense, coach Ime Udoka repeatedly stressed the issue of pace and ball movement. In a recent interview, Udoka split the Celtics season into two parts (subscription required) – ball movement, and the lack thereof.
Luckily for the C’s, Udoka’s constant preaching seems to have paid off. The Celtics have led the league with a scoring differential of 19.6 over the last 14 games. Against the Nets, they also dished out 28 assists whilst connecting on 41 percent of their threes.