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The Boston Celtics were supposed to be done.

Gordon Hayward going down five minutes into the season after gutting your team's depth to go all-in on the youth movement was supposed to spell disaster, yet, somehow, the Celts are tied for the best record in the league after ten percent of the season has been burned. That the team they are tied with is the Orlando Magic should tell you everything you need to know about how downright weird this season has been early on, and while there's still plenty of time for other teams ro claw their way back to where they are "supposed" to be (as of this writing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost four straight and wouldn't make the playoffs if the season ended today, and the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs are all looking very mortal with at least three losses under their belts apiece). So why is Boston doing so well while the presumptive Goliaths of the league are struggling to put it together?

Defense, my friends - de-fense.

The Celts did a weird thing. When they did that retooling, they ended up with a roster of nine guys between 6'4 and 6'9, all of whom possess good footwork and an ability to switch on defense well. Two of the remaining 15 guys happen to be unusually long (Terry Rozier) for their size, or atypically nimble (Al Horford) for his height (6'10), with an old-school bruiser (Aron Baynes) thrown in for good measure. 

The results have been astounding.

I jokingly wrote before the Celtics drafted Jaylen Brown that the team should try and corner the market on wings given the apparent effectiveness of Boston's perimeter defense on the Warriors, but it seems that is exactly what's going on here. Except, the athleticism and skill this roster has spread surprisingly consistently across the roster makes defensive lapses or offensive strategies shockingly ineffective. Opponents can't shoot over the thicket of length, and they can't slash past them to the basket, nor execute screens effectively or roll to the basket. They get frustrated and shoot early, from midrange or when they get open - and the way Boston has disrupted passing lanes with that length, that's not a common occurrence.

In fact, Boston has held opponents to the eighth-worst assist record in the league, making life hell for opposing floor generals, which can also be seen in the fact that the Cs have the second-best steal record in the NBA. The team is also gobbling up possessions on both ends of the floor as the sixth-best rebounding team in the association. Even Kyrie Irving is playing good defense - pinch yourself, you're not dreaming.

The hallmark perimeter defense has ascended to new levels, too - it's currently the second-best in the league at holding off opponent three-point percentage - and the combination of factors is holding opponents of the Celts to the lowest points-per-game in the league. This could still be noise, but given what we know about Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren's interest in analytics, this is probably not an accident. The NBA is an ever-evolving arms race, and in a league predicated on unstoppable offence, a natural zig to such a zag is an impenetrable defense designed to produce offense.

Of course, old fogeys like myself remember such tactics are anything but new, but coupling them with modern strategies and length to create contemporary motion-oriented attacks and effective counters to them is. Whatever the root cause of the defensive revolution we're currently witnessing is, it's been a joy to watch, which is certainly not something anyone would ever have said about old-school defense-first basketball.

For more stories by Justin, click here.



Image: Yahoo Sports/Getty Images
Data: basketball-reference.com
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 11/03/2017 10:58:00 AM Edit
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