The Boston Celtics were the fourth best defensive team in the NBA last year when you look at points allowed per 100 possessions. Thanks to the addition of Al Horford in the off-season, both players and fans were optimistic that the C’s could be in the conversation for best defense in the league in 2016-17, leading many to believe that they’re capable of being the second best team in the East and competing with the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals. Although it seems far-fetched, especially right now, the Celtics were actually given the fourth best odds to win the NBA title this year.
It’s still really early, but so far this team has failed miserably to meet expectations. Unfortunately, injuries to Horford and Jae Crowder haven’t allowed us to witness this supposedly rock solid defensive unit at full strength. But with the way the C’s have played on D through the first six games, I’m not sure their presence would make that much of a difference.
Boston is second to last in defensive rating so far this year, allowing 114 points per 100 possessions. In a category that they were fourth in last year, they now rank 29th. Crowder and Horford are huge missing pieces, don’t get me wrong. But last time I checked, Avery Bradley was First Team All-Defense last season and he and Marcus Smart are widely regarded as two of the best guard defenders in the league. So there’s no reason Emmanuel Mudiay should be outscoring the entire Celtics team 24-23 in the first quarter at TD Garden like he did in the C’s blowout loss to the Nuggets on Sunday night.
And that was just the beginning of one of the worst defensive halves in Boston Celtics history, as they went on to allow 77 points to Denver before the break. The last time a Celtics team allowed that many points in a half was when gave up 78 in 2005 against the Milwaukee Bucks. The most they’ve ever allowed is 80.
The Celtics’ bigs were once again crushed on the glass, and Avery Bradley was once again the team’s leading rebounder with 11. AB is now averaging 8.7 boards per game. The next best is Crowder with 6.3 in the four games that he’s played.
One of the lone highlights of the night was Isaiah Thomas on the offensive end. He dropped 30 points to bring his average to 26.2 per game on the year. After the game, however, IT’s attention was rightfully on the Celtics’ failure to play to their potential on defense:
“We’re not as good as we thought we were,” said Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, a black hoodie drawn tight over his head as he tried to explain the latest defensive dud. “When we don’t come out with a sense of urgency, we’re not a good team, and that’s what happened tonight.”
But what about those aspirations of being a top defense?
“At this point, we’re all talk,” Thomas said. “That’s all we’re doing. So until we put it together in a full 48-minute game and show what we can do at that end, we’re not gonna be a top defensive team.”
He also talked about how important it is for the team to start showing a sense of urgency, preaching that if they don’t change their mindset now then things will only get worse:
“The physical thing is an attitude,” Thomas said. “Not backing down, not thinking we’re the best team in the NBA. It’s a mindset thing. We’ve shown we can be a physical team. We’ve shown we can play at a high level on the defensive end, but we’re not showing it this season. We’ll have a bad season if we don’t show it soon.”
The C’s will hopefully have some high-intensity practices the next couple days as they’ll look to ramp up the defensive effort on Wednesday night against the Wizards in DC. Horford is expected to return for that match-up and Kelly Olynyk is expected to make his season debut. Jae Crowder is still listed as “out for a week or two” so he won’t be suiting up. It’s not panic time yet, but I’d say Wednesday is as close to a must-win as you can get this early in the season.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour