More work to be done: Boston Celtics defense continues to fall short

The Boston Celtics fell short on the defensive side of the ball Friday, October 28 against the Cleveland Cavaliers -- and something needs to be done ASAP Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The Boston Celtics fell short on the defensive side of the ball Friday, October 28 against the Cleveland Cavaliers -- and something needs to be done ASAP Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

For the third straight contest to tip off the NBA regular season, the Boston Celtics have given up 120 or more points. Last season, Boston’s defense topped the league at the conclusion of the season, allowing 120 or more points in just 10 of the 82 contests before the postseason. Whether it was questionable decision-making down the stretch or Boston going back to its bad habits from last season, the Celtics’ loss to the Cavaliers at the TD Garden marked that this Boston team has a long way to go to get to where it wants to be.

Although it is early, this dominant, gritty Celtics’ defense that captained them to the Finals last season currently sits ranked 26th in the league, behind the 1-5 Houston Rockets, and the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs. Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert became nightmares to defend in the half-court, getting to their spots every chance they had. It was Nikola Vucevic creating havoc on the glass in the previous game, but it was a completely different story back in Boston.

Following their second straight loss, Joe Mazzulla spoke on the late-game efficiency of his team, stating:

"“I think we just have to execute…I don’t know if it’s a trend or an issue; I thought we were winning the game…We didn’t close out certain possessions…I don’t know if it’s as much of an issue as it is just being more consistent on both ends of the floor, and not relaxing and just understanding.”"

Against Cleveland, Boston was unable to carry its momentum from the second quarter into the rest of the game, allowing the Cavs’ wings to get into the teeth of the Celtics’ defense. Through five games last season, the Celtics were 2-3, and while the team is in a much better position in the beginning parts of this campaign, allowing 40 or more points to two players on the opposing team raises a whole lot of questions no matter what point of the season it is.

What the Boston Celtics lacked on the defensive end

The Boston Celtics even minimized the rebounding gap compared to the last contest against a much bigger team, and while there were some solid defensive possessions, allowing a team to shoot over 50 percent from the field, and over 45 percent from beyond the arc is essentially impossible to overcome. Once Donovan Mitchell or Caris LeVert got past the first defender and received the mismatch they wanted, Boston’s defense was toast, as the options were endless for the two of them to do with the ball. Mitchell attacking Luke Kornet, or Blake Griffin is never going to end in success for the Celtics.

Boston’s offense was always there, coming up with sublime ball movement on the perimeter, but when the Celtics needed a stop the most in order to bring the momentum back into their favor, Cleveland would find a way to break down Boston’s half-court defense. Heading into the 2022-23 season, there were few people saying that the Boston Celtics were going to struggle on the defensive end. Maybe without Robert Williams III, Boston would not be sitting in the top five in that category, but given the personnel, it does have, there is no legitimate explanation of why a team should be letting the opposition back into the contest so consistently.

Kornet slowed down the offensive flow quite a bit, and many wondered why Mazzulla wouldn’t go small if the mismatches in the half-court would be large. Even without Darius Garland available, Mitchell owned the point guard duties with no problems. It may have been just one of those games for a streaky player like LeVert, but it was exactly what Boston needed in order for it to realize what it must do to put forth a sustainable defense without Williams III for quite some time.

Cleveland was the second-best defense in the entire league heading into Friday night, and yet 123 points were not enough to get the job done. Anyone can point to turnovers or the shooting struggles of Marcus Smart as the reasons for the last two losses, but when it comes down to it, there are better wings in the NBA than Mitchell and LeVert. Without a solid presence in the paint, the perimeter defenders have to work twice as hard to get stops.

In their clash against Washington, Boston is going up against a top-10 defense, and an All-Star that wants to prove to the league that he can win in the nation’s capital. How the Boston Celtics respond to this is going to be crucial, with rematches against the two teams Boston has lost to on tap for next week.