Stevens has Celtics playing their best defense in years
It's no secret that in today's NBA one's ability to score and create offense has become more of a premium than one's ability on defense. Compared to the days of yester-year when defensive specialists held more of a place in the game, if a player has little to no ability to score or facilitate the ball, they won't last long.
Few and far between are the Tony Allen's of the NBA nowadays. In a league where almost all 30 teams average upwards of triple-digits (100) a night, guys of that mold might as well be creatures of myth soon enough. More and more of the James Harden's and Isaiah Thomas' will appear and memories of 80's styled, hard-nose defense will fade quicker than the 2018 Nets first-rounder's draft stock this year.
Don't get me wrong though, this isn't me saying players today can't play defense as well as they could in the past. With the increase in athleticism, size, and overall talent in the modern NBA, the league is just a completely different animal now. Since almost every current player has some mixture of size and athleticism, the results of one's play on the defensive end seem to stem primarily from effort ... this is where the coach comes in.
Despite the notion that some teams would be perfectly fine without a coach (ahem ahem, Cleveland Cavaliers), Brad Stevens is one of the league's young, bright stars who is proving this theory wrong. Since his arrival in Boston, the former Butler University head coach has instilled a game-plan which over the past few years has developed his team into the now league-best defensive unit, statistically speaking at least.
Some could argue the San Antonio Spurs at full health (a.k.a. with Kawhi Leonard healthy) or the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, might be better defensively. However as the rankings currently stand, the math puts our Boston Celtics atop the league. This comes with absolutely no surprise for anyone watching the team of late.
The Celtics have held their opponent to less than 90 points in 3 consecutive games for the first time since the 2014-15 season
This also matches the longest such streak in the NBA in 2017-18 (DEN)
These past three games have actually been historically great in terms of how well the Green have stepped up their game on defense. As noted above, this is the first time in three seasons that Stevens’ squad has held three straight opponents to 90 points or less.
In today's league where scores of 110 points, heck even 120, come on a nightly basis, being able to deny teams even a mere 90 points on consecutive outings is almost herculean. The league average currently sits at 105.5 points per game for 2017-18!!! This means the Celtics not only held all three teams at least 15 points below their nightly average but the last three opponents (Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Cavaliers) we're actually held to their season-low too!
Another game, another night the Celtics hold their opponent to a season-low point total. That's three straight games (Cavs, Wolves, Nets) they've done it now.
The performances of late haven't even just been historical from a franchise perspective but from a league perspective too. For the year, the Celtics have matched any other team's streak (three games) of holding an opponent to the aforementioned 90 points meaning they'll have a chance in London this Thursday to have the longest of the season.
Regardless if this streak is lost somewhere over the mid-Atlantic on the team's flight across the pond, the last three games will still be notable for another milestone the C’s set. As well as being the last Celtic team in three years to a hold a three-straight opponents to less than 90 points, they are the first NBA team to hold three-straight opponents to 37% shooting from the field or less in that time.
Both of those milestones pretty much go hand in hand. If you're going to deny a team's ability to shoot with efficiency, more likely than not their scoring totals will not be high either.
However a crazier note about these last three games or past six moreover is that the Celtics offense led by MVP candidate, Kyrie Irving, really hasn't been itself during this stretch. Only posting a 28th-ranked offensive output across the league in their last six tilts, good offense clearly hasn't been leading to the C's great defense but rather great effort.
The Celtics have an outrageous 91.7 defensive rating over their last six games -- and two of those games were against the Rockets and Cavs. 6-0 during that stretch despite ranking 28th in offensive efficiency.
This could be a hopeful sign in a way for fans of the team going forward. Think about it ... all while playing the league's 28th best offense, or performing like it, the Green were still able to rattle off six straight wins mostly off of effort and hustle which resulted in terrific D.
Down the stretch here, if Stevens and the team can work out some of the offensive kinks and start to find their stride on that end, the team will look more and more like the finished product president Danny Ainge and team management wanted. Obviously we have to keep in mind that with Gordon Hayward out, even the defense will be kept from showing it's full potential at the start of the year, but clearly it can still perform as the league's best without him.
How do you guys feel about the Celtics defense lately? Let us know in the comments below!
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Photo via Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY Sports
Photo via The Associated Press