The Boston Celtics have been winning with their reliable defense
How have the Boston Celtics managed to win five games in a row with seemingly their entire team dealing with injuries? The answer is their defensive presence.
Typically, when a franchise player hits the shelf along with multiple core members of his supporting cast, their team slides drastically as a result.
Fortunately for the Celtics, this has not been the case.
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Despite losing Kyrie Irving, whose 24.4 points per game is 10.2 points per night more than the squad’s second leading scorer, Jaylen Brown, to a knee injury, the Celtics somehow find themselves riding a five-game winning surge after going 4-0 on their final west coast road trip of the season.
Boston has trotted out three different starting lineup combinations over the past five games, including putting rookie Guerschon Yabusele, who received a DNP in Monday night’s win over the Phoenix Suns, in the starting five for Wednesday’s tilt against the Utah Jazz.
It’s not as though the Celtics are witnessing a scoring surge over this winning streak, as they have yet to top 105 points since March 14 and rank 21st in the NBA in points per game in the month of March.
Rather, it has been their staunch defense that has allowed them to remain a contender for the first seed in the Eastern Conference with seven games remaining.
The Celtics have allowed 100 points just one time on this unbeaten run, reflecting what has been a stupendous month on the defensive end. Over their last five games, they have let up just 96.0 points per game.
Boston allowed 99 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder, well below their season average of 107.1 points per night before acquiescing 100 to the Portland Trail Blazers, who post 106.0 points per night.
The Kings, the Suns and the Jazz all rank in the bottom third of the league in points per night, with Sac-town being one of just two teams to score less than 100 points a game. Regardless, the Celtics still held each of those teams short of their average output. The Suns put up 103.8 points per night – Boston conceded 94. The Celtics also granted 94 points to Utah, a team putting up 103.3 points per outing.
Boston ranks second in points allowed per game in March, yielding just 100.1 points each time on the floor. This stands just below the San Antonio Spurs’ granting of 99.4 points per night. The Celtics now stake the claim to the best defensive rating in the NBA (101.2), a figure that has dropped to 99.7 over the past five games.
The defensive success has relied on multiple approaches that head coach Brad Stevens has been pushing to instill in his squad throughout the year.
One has been clamping down on opponent’s second-chance opportunities. Over the last five games, Boston has let up 10.0 second-chance points per game, the third-fewest in the league over that span. This reflects a theme of the Celtics defense this season, as they have allowed the fourth-fewest second-chance points per night (10.8) after giving up a harrowing 13.9 second-chance points per contest in 2016-17, the fourth-most in the NBA.
Additionally, the Celtics have made it difficult for their opponents to find open looks from the perimeter. In March, the opposition has hit just 33.8 percent of their three-point attempts against Boston, the only team in the league to hold opposing teams to below 34 percent from behind the arc this month.
It doesn’t hurt that the Celtics are also shooting the three-ball with the highest effectiveness (42.0 percent) in the league in March, providing themselves with a positive differential from beyond the arc seemingly every game.
Finding an uncontested look has been difficult to come by for Boston’s opponents recently. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum shot a combined 5-for-15 from three-point land in a five-point loss to the Celtics last Friday, with the Blazers making 8 of their 33 three-point attempts for the game. Conversely, the Celtics fared 11-for-18 from deep.
The Kings made seven of their 26 attempts from beyond the arc in a 104-93 defeat on Sunday while Boston went 12-for-22. On Monday night, Boston shot 48.3% from deep while Phoenix made 34.3% of their threes. On Wednesday night, the Celtics made 12 of 21 threes while holding Utah to an abysmal 9-for-33 mark from deep.
Boston’s defensive wave will be put to the test on Saturday night as the Toronto Raptors rank third in the NBA with 112.5 points per game. However, if the Celtics are able to challenge Toronto’s shooters and keep big man Jonas Valanciunas off the glass, the could hold the Raptors to under 100 points as they did in a win on November 12.