C's Defense Continues Resurgence in Win Over Memphis
BOSTON - Remember the defensive lull that the Boston Celtics experienced leading up to the All-Star break? Well, that appears to be a phase of the past.
The defensive intensity that Boston prided itself on for the first half of the season appears to have returned after a brief hiatus, and Monday night's 109-98 win over the Memphis Grizzlies provided the latest example of its resurgence. It marked Boston's third consecutive win after the break, including the second game in which it was able to limit its opponent to fewer than 100 points. And, in reality, the defensive effort was much more impressive than the scoreboard indicated.
Boston dominated the opening 24 minutes, taking a 67-41 lead into halftime. The second quarter in particular was one of the most enjoyable defensive frames that coach Brad Stevens has seen out of his squad all season.
"The way we were flying around was really fun to watch," Stevens said in reference to Boston's 20-4 run that took up half of the second quarter.
The Celtics were hustling on every defensive effort during the second frame, contesting shots and clogging the paint, while limiting the Grizzlies to just five field goal makes and only three shot attempts inside the paint.
"It showed what we're capable if everybody's engaged," said Daniel Theis, who logged a plus-16 rating in just over seven minutes of action during the second quarter.
It's been a while since Boston has displayed consistent, collective engagement on the defensive end.
The C's did not seem themselves leading up to the All-Star break, having lost four of five while posting a 111.4 defensive rating. During three post-break games, the Celtics have recorded a 103.3 defensive rating, which is much closer to the league-leading 100.4 rating it possessed during the first half of the season.
The key to getting back on track, according to Marcus Morris, was the eight-day, All-Star break layoff. It allowed a couple of injured players, like Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin, to recover back to full strength, while giving the rest of the players a chance to regenerate their bodies and minds.
"Everyone needs the break," said Morris, who posted 13 points and eight rebounds against the Grizzlies. "You get a chance to see your family and you get a chance to not think about basketball all the time. Sometimes that gets to you, game after game, traveling, staying at hotels. It gets too you, especially with the younger dudes who haven't really been in this situation. I think the break really benefitted them to give them time to take a deep breath and look forward to the Playoffs."
Added the seven-year vet, "We're jelling at the right time. The defense has gotten a lot better and we're playing a lot harder."
Three games has been enough to convince Theis that the Celtics are back to playing how they should be on the defensive end.
"Before the break, we played bad defensively," said the rookie big man. "Since we came back we've tried to play our defense from the beginning and the middle of the season."
Now, the key is to just maintain that effort throughout the final stretch of the season.
"We're playing consistent again," said Theis. "We've gotta keep doing this. We've got 20 games left, so now it's important."
Wednesday's game against Charlotte should provide a great gauge as to where Boston's defense truly stands, considering the Hornets have been on an offensive tear of late. Charlotte has posted an Eastern Conference-leading 117.3 offensive rating since the All-Star break, so the Celtics will need to continue with its strong defensive effort Wednesday night in order to extend their winning streak to four games.