Celtics Focus on Re-Establishing Defensive Habits

BOSTON – Despite being off to a 3-1 start to the 2022-23 season, the Boston Celtics are not totally satisfied with how they’ve come out of the gate.

Their third-ranked offense has kept them afloat, but their 24th-ranked defense hasn’t lived up to expectations. Thus, improving on that end of the floor was their primary focus at Wednesday morning's practice.

“Defense is something that you have to commit to every day, every game,” said interim head coach Joe Mazzulla. “When you have moments of laxing, you kind of have inconsistency. So it's all about the fundamentals. We all know what we need to do. And I think our guys did a great job today kind of focusing on that.”

Some of the fundamentals they went over included body position, pick-up points, and communication – all simple aspects of the game, yet vital to hammer home.

Malcolm Brogdon elaborated on the pick-up points concept and how he and his teammates can improve in that area.

“You can’t let the ball-handler come down the court and really be starting their offense at the 3 or inside the 3,” said the veteran guard. “You can't be backing up and giving space or giving room. So pick-up points are all about being a step or two above the 3-point line and picking the ball up early.”

The C’s are also hoping to pick the ball off the glass a little better, having struggled in the rebounding department. They’re currently ranked 23rd in rebounding percentage, which is partially impacted by Rob Williams’ absence, but also a result of their effort, says Brogdon.

“That’s just being intentional – intentionality and effort – understanding that that’s a deficit for us,” he said. “We have to come together, and it sort of bleeds into our defense as well. If we’re in a better position defensively, keeping the ball out of the paint, we’re going to be in a better position to rebound the ball. So we have to really focus on our defense first, and rebounding will come.”

Boston has given up at least 117 points in three of its first four games – an uncanny start for last season’s top-ranked defense, which held opponents under that mark in 23 out of its 24 playoff games.

Fortunately, the offense was strong enough to earn wins in the first three games, but Monday night’s 120-102 loss in Chicago left a sour taste in the team’s mouth after it coughed up a 19-point first-half advantage.

“We were just a step slow,” Brogdon noted of Monday’s performance. “Not as physical as we have been in the previous three games, but also there was some slippage in the Orlando game, it was just a game that we were just more talented, we were able to pull it out (126-120). But having the slippage, and then it really showed in Chicago, so we have to get back to being physical, especially on switches and just overcommunicating like we have been previously.”

Brogdon remembers how connected the defense previously was after going up against the C’s multiple times last season when he was with the Indiana Pacers. He recalls how everybody was filling the gaps, helping, and making it hard for opposing players to penetrate.

Brogdon saw glimpses of those characteristics during the first two games against Philadelphia and Miami and has no doubt that they can return to that point, knowing that’s the foundation of the team’s identity.

“We’ll get back to that,” he insisted, looking ahead to Friday night’s home game against Cleveland. “That’s who we are.”