By: Kenny Doyle
Down big against the Warriors and shooting less than 30%, it looked like it was finally time for the Celtics winning streak to come to an end. Coming back from a 17 point deficit against Golden State feels next to impossible, but the Celtics did it and they did it with defense. In the era of pace and space offenses, defense has become somewhat of a lost art in the NBA, but the Celtics have committed to being great on that end and it is winning them games night after night.
The Celtics came back from that 17 point deficit, the Warriors worst blown lead since they were up 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals, and proved to the NBA that their defense is legit. Boston held Golden State to just 88 points, the lowest they have ever scored with Kevin Durant playing, on 40% shooting and 31% from 3. They did that against one of the greatest teams of all time. It's starting to feel like this Celtics team is the 2014 Seattle Seahawks of basketball.
TNT analyst Charles Barkley scoffed at the notion the Celtics could hold the Warriors under 94 points (their average opp. ppg coming into the game)
Charles clearly hasn't been paying attention to the Celtics league-best defense. The Celtics are allowing almost a full 3 ppg less than the league's 2nd best defense. Although some wanted to question the Celtics defense because of who they have played, it's hard to dismiss their defensive play against a team like Golden State.
The Celtics defensive play passed his biggest test and now the rest of the league should be terrified of facing the Celtics D. If they can shutdown Golden State like that, they can shut down anybody. They key to what has turned the Celtics defense into such a juggernaut has been partly Kyrie's commitment to defense at the point guard position, something they didn't have last season, and the Celtics ability to switch at every single position.
While Avery Bradley was a great defender, he couldn't switch at 6'2" like Jaylen Brown can at 6'7" and Amir Johnson isn't half the perimeter defender that Marcus Morris is. In total the Celtics gained 13 inches in their starting lineup by swapping out their old starters for the new ones and that has done wonders for their defense. The majority of NBA offenses are heavily reliant on pick and rolls and off-ball screens and if you can switch crisply and smoothly like the Celtics have it can throw an offense completely out of whack.
What may be most surprising is that the Celtics won this game despite being so atrocious on offense. The Celtics shot 33% and 22% from three. Many thought it would have taken a perfect game from the Celtics to beat the Warriors, but they ended up having one of the worst shooting nights they could possible have and still won. Regardless on wins and losses, the Celtics need to focus on improving on that end of the floor now that their defense is firing on all cylinders.
The Celtics offense hasn't been good all season. Boston currently ranks 23rd in the league in PPG and 26th in field goal percentage. They may not need to improve all that much on offense if they keep playing defense like this every night, but they should be able to improve just based on reverting back to the mean. Kyrie Irving, a career 38% three point shooter, is shooting 31.9% from three so far this season, which looks amazing compared to Marcus Smart who is 27% from the field and 26% from deep. Those percentages are career lows for both Kyrie and Marcus and Marcus's are among some of the worst numbers you can find in the NBA.
The Celtics spent a lot of resources on improving their offense from last season. They drafted Jayson Tatum 3rd overall, Jaylen Brown has shown growth on the offensive end, and Marcus Morris is a much better scoring option at power forward, but there hasn't been the type of improvement on that many had hoped for. Losing Hayward obviously hurt their scoring potential, but they still have better offensive players than they did last year. If the Celtics can just be average in those offensive categories, they could have a real shot at challenging for a title this year and after adding Hayward would undoubtedly have a super team.
As the Celtics win streak rolled on and on you probably started looking at their schedule to see how long it could go and my guess is you stopped every time, even just for a second, when you saw the Warriors game. This was the game that the Warriors were supposed to prove the Celtics weren't as good as they were playing to start the season. As it turns out, the Celtics might be ready to compete with the Warriors for a title after all.