Marcus Smart closes off Max Strus' driving lane with great defense

Physical 'D' Continues Buoying C's in ECF Comeback

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

The old sports adage says that defense wins championships. If there’s truth in that statement, the Boston Celtics might just be headed toward an 18th banner, because they’re playing their best defense at the most opportune time of the season.

Saturday night’s Game 6 in Miami marked the third consecutive game of the Eastern Conference Finals during which Boston limited the opposing Heat to 103 or fewer points. The Celtics have smothered the Heat with a deadly combination of effort, physicality and teamwork, which has limited Miami to just 99.7 points per game on 43.0 percent shooting from the field over those three contests.

There is no wondering why Boston is now in prime position to pull off the improbable. The answer for the team’s turnaround is simple.

“Defense, defense, defense,” Jaylen Brown said after Game 6. “Our defense kept us in games, and defense is why there's going to be a Game 7.”

The fact that there will be a Game 7 means that Boston’s defense has featured a shocking turnaround in the middle of this series. Through the first three games of the Conference Finals, the Celtics had surrendered an average of 120.7 PPG on 51.9 percent shooting. Miami was getting everything it wanted, and with ease.

Now, the Heat’s offense is at the other end of the spectrum. Miami is putting in legitimate work for nearly every shot it takes, and rarely does the team find easy looks. Such was the case throughout Game 6 as the Heat shot just 31.1 percent from the field through the first three quarters. That level of defense kept the game in Boston’s favor while the Celtics navigated their worst 3-point shooting night of the entire season.

“Yeah,” Jayson Tatum said bluntly, “it was defense that kept us in the game, that allowed us to stay in the game.”

And, from a macro level, it has allowed them to stay in the series.

Even Miami has taken notice of the defensive turnaround for Boston and is now publicly acknowledging it. Well, kind of.

Following Game 6, Bam Adebayo was asked what the Celtics are doing differently at the defensive end of the floor after they limited him to 4-for-16 shooting in the game. His initial response was, “I feel like they’ve been more active.”

Just seconds later, Adebayo drifted away from crediting Boston’s defense, but the toothpaste had already been let out of the tube with his initial, honest answer. He knows full well that the C’s have dialed it up at that end, and that it’s affecting every Heat player who takes the floor.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was much more open when it came to crediting Boston’s defense.  He acknowledged following Game 6, “They jammed us up. It looked like at one point, (like) we were in the 80s.”

That right there says a lot about these Celtics. That right there is the greatest compliment Spoelstra could give them.

What was defense all about in the 80s? It was about physicality, effort… and a lot more physicality. Boston has upped the ante in those categories, and in significant fashion.

You know Boston is playing at an extremely high level at that end if it’s conjuring up thoughts of the days when Kevin McHale was clotheslining Kurt Rambis. You know, the days that just so happened to coincide with a trio of Celtics titles.