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John Schuhmann

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Stats-wise, the Celtics' defense is better than it was two seasons ago.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Age hasn't slowed tenaciousness of Celtics' defense


Posted Jun 2 2010 12:19PM

Could this season's edition of the Boston Celtics possibly be a better defensive team than two seasons ago? The answer, according to the numbers, is a resounding "yes."

When you compare the points the Celtics allowed per 100 possessions with the league average, the 2007-08 Celtics were the best regular-season defensive team of the last 15 years. They allowed 96.2 points per 100 possessions when the league average that season was 104.7.

Their numbers were slightly worse in the postseason, allowing 99.8 points per 100 possessions. On their way to banner No. 17, they held the Hawks, Cavs, Pistons and Lakers each well below their regular-season offensive efficiency numbers. Of course, they struggled to get through the first two rounds more than they should have.

With their veterans more aged and with '08 stopper James Posey in New Orleans, it's hard to believe the Celtics could repeat their defensive dominance. But the postseason numbers suggest that this season's Celtics have been much better defensively than they were in 2008.

This season started with the Celtics challenging their own mark for the best defense in recent history. Through Christmas, they were allowing just 96.2 points per 100 possessions again. But they fell off after that and finished fifth in the league, allowing 101.1. Overall, they were a better defensive team last season, even though Kevin Garnett missed 25 games (as opposed to 13 this season).

When the postseason began, the Celtics were healthy and well-rested. They held the Heat to more than 11 points per 100 possessions under their season average, the Cavs to more than eight points under their season average, and the Magic to more than nine points under their season average.

The Celtics' defense has been much better than it was in the first three rounds of the 2008 postseason, using average points per possession by their opponents.

Points per 100 possessions, 2007-08
Team Reg. Sea. vs. Bos. Diff.
Atlanta 104.0 97.5 -6.5
Cleveland 103.2 97.2 -6.0
Detroit 108.0 104.5 -3.5
Per game 104.9 99.5 -5.4
Points per 100 possessions, 2009-10
Team Reg. Sea. vs. Bos. Diff.
Miami 104.5 93.4 -11.1
Cleveland 108.8 100.5 -8.3
Orlando 109.5 100.4 -9.1
Per game 107.8 98.4 -9.4

The Lakers were not a great offensive team in the regular season (ranking 11th at 105.9 points per 100 possessions), but they've been much more efficient in the last two rounds. They shot 50 percent and scored 119.0 points per 100 possessions against the Jazz and Suns.

But the Utah and Phoenix defenses are several classes below Boston's. Come Thursday night, the Lakers' offense faces a much stronger resistance. L.A. has Kobe Bryant and home-court advantage, but by playing the Cavs and Magic (with each of those series starting on the road as well), the Boston defense is much better prepared for the Lakers' offense.

Not only are the Celtics defending better than they did two seasons ago, they're defending differently.

Celtics' Defensive Stats -- 2010 postseason
Season O2P% O3P% DReb RT OTO/Poss OFTA/Poss OPIP/Poss OFBP/Poss
2007-08 0.479 0.321 0.732 16.3 33.9 26.6 9.9
2009-10 0.478 0.329 0.775 17.7 30.4 40.5 9.8
O2P% = Opponents 2-point percentage
O3P% = Opponents 3-point percentage
DReb Rt. = Defensive rebounding rate
OTO/Poss = Opponents turnovers per 100 possessions
OPIP/Poss = Opponents points in the paint per 100 possessions
OFBP/Poss = Opponents fast break points per 100 possessions

Boston is not defending the 3-point line quite as well as it did in 2008, but Cleveland and Orlando were two of this season's best 3-point shooting teams. Boston has also allowed more points in the paint, which is a concern against L.A. But it is doing everything else better.

The Celtics are forcing more turnovers, they're not allowing opponents to get to the line as much (believe it or not) and they're rebounding better. Plus, the transition defense has been strong.

All the evidence points to this Celtics' squad being stronger defensively than the 2008 champs were.

Of course, the best defensive job the Celtics did two seasons ago was in the Finals, when they held the Lakers to just 100.9 points per 100 possessions, more than nine points below their regular season mark of 110.3 (which ranked third in the league). Boston was particularly strong in defending inside the arc (allowing the Lakers to shoot just 45 percent) and on the defensive glass (grabbing 79 percent of available defensive boards).

If they can defend like that again, or even come close, the Celtics will most certainly be raising banner No. 18 before they know it.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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