Wait a Minute: Time is on C's Side To Fix Defensive Woes

BOSTON – Brad Stevens wouldn’t hold anything back. He couldn’t hold anything back.

The Boston Celtics had just fallen to 1-2 in the preseason and had just struggled defensively for the third time in as many games. It was time to let his feelings be known - publicly.

Following a 102-95 defeat Tuesday night at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he began by saying, “I think overall in the first week, [our main rotation] has not been effective.”

He continued, adding, “I thought we looked like a sieve defensively.”

And then came the knockout punch: “I couldn’t me more unimpressed after our first three exhibition games.”

Here’s why:

The Celtics have now given up an average of 106.0 points per game during the preseason. They’ve allowed opponents to outshoot them by nearly 9.0 percent from the field. They’ve committed a total of 92 personal fouls, good for an average of 30.7 per game.

Those numbers are in stark contrast to last season, when Boston allowed opponents to score only 100.4 PPG on 44.0 percent shooting, all while committing an average of just 19.7 fouls per game.

Strangely, this is the same team that dominated opponents with its defense a season ago, yet currently, it doesn’t look like the same team at all.

“We’ve just got to get back to being us,” said Marcus Smart, who is well-known for his defensive talents. “We’re doing things we usually don’t do on the defensive end. We were being lazy, guys are switching onto guys instead of guarding on a guy, and we were wanting somebody else to do the job for us, and that’s not us.”

Truly, it isn’t. It’s not even the preseason Celtics from a season ago.

Last preseason, the Celtics allowed only 95.0 PPG and never committed more than 24 personal fouls in a game. They never allowed more than 102 points in a game, and they averaged only 21.3 fouls per game over four contests.

Those facts eliminate the argument that the C’s are simply shaking off the standard preseason rust after a summer off. The fact of this matter is that the Celtics just aren’t in the same place defensively as they were a year ago after their first three preseason games.

Hiding below that information, however, is another important note: that this year’s preseason has been flipped. The Celtics are seven days into their training camp, and they’ve already played three preseason games. Last preseason, the Celtics didn’t play their first exhibition contest until the sixth day of training camp.

The drastic change in scheduling, which led to only two days of practice before the team’s first preseason tilt this year, likely affected Boston’s ability to sharpen its defense for exhibition play. Fortunately, it may also affect their ability to sharpen their defense after exhibition play.

Boston will play its final preseason game Saturday night in Cleveland. After that contest, the team will essentially have the opportunity to hold a true training camp, as it will have nine full days to figure it all out prior to Opening Night, which arrives Oct. 16.

A shot at true and lengthy training camp, in Boston’s mind, is the Ace up its collective sleeve. The Celtics believe that, with ample time, they will right their defensive ship and sail full-speed ahead into Opening Night.

“It gives us extra time,” Smart said of the gap between Boston’s final preseason game and Opening Night. “We can tune up things and we can hone in on things that Brad and the coaching staff emphasize to us.”

Stevens’ assessment Tuesday night of his team’s defensive play was fair, to say the least. His players even admitted as much in the locker room.

But they didn’t walk away from reporters before highlighting the fact that they still have plenty of time to rectify their issues before games actually count.

“We’re not worried,” said Smart. “We’re obviously disappointed, but at the same time, this is why we have preseason, to get back in the groove and get chemistry with the guys and get back to doing what we do.”

They’d better do so soon, because their coach isn’t pleased with that he’s seen thus far.