C’s Aim to Flip a Switch on 'D' after Loss to Nuggets

addByline("Taylor C. Snow", "Celtics.com", "taylorcsnow");

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics pride themselves on the defensive end of the floor, but that area is where they have struggled most during the early part of this season.

Boston’s defensive troubles peaked Sunday night when it allowed 77 first-half points to the Denver Nuggets, en route to a 123-107 loss on its home court.

Coach Brad Stevens said after the game that the cause of the Celtics’ defensive difficulties stems from them being too much of a “finesse team” of late. And when a finesse team plays a physical squad like Denver, the results are bound to be ugly.

Fortunately, this is an issue that Stevens says the Celtics can correct.

“We can get a lot better,” he said. “But it all starts with holding your ground physically.”

Boston did not hold its ground during the early part of Sunday’s matchup. The C’s allowed Emmanuel Mudiay, a point guard, to get two put-back buckets during the opening three minutes. Those easy baskets allowed Mudiay – who entered the game shooting just 27.1 percent from the field – to gain confidence and get hot. He ended up shooting 9-of-10 from the field during the first quarter alone, and outscored the entire Celtics team, 24-23, during the opening 12 minutes.

“They were getting where they wanted to on their drives,” said Stevens. “I thought the (Danilo) Gallinari dunk (at the end of the first half) was a great example of that. I thought Kenneth Faried diving on the floor at 3:57 left in the fourth quarter was a great example of that. That’s who we’ve been the last week.”

Through six games, the Celtics have a defensive rating of 110.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, which ranks them second-to-last behind the Knicks. Boston’s 110.7 offensive rating – the second-highest in the league behind Cleveland – has kept the team afloat at 3-3, but the Celtics say a .500 record is not nearly good enough for their standards.

In order to meet their standards, they simply must start holding their spots on the defensive end.

“The cool thing about it is we can fix it,” said defensive stalwart Avery Bradley. “Defense is all about effort. People just need to bring it every single night.”

The C’s brought such effort on a nightly basis last season when they boasted a defensive rating of 100.9, which was tied for the fourth-best mark in the league.

Ahead of this season, many Celtics recognized that feat and stated their belief that they could be a top-three defensive team in the NBA. After the rough start, Isaiah Thomas doesn’t want to hear those words again until he and his teammates begin to prove it.

“At this point we’re all talk. That’s all we’re doing,” he stated with frustration after Sunday’s loss. “Until we put it together in a full 48-minute game – show what we can do on that end – we’re not going to be a top defensive team.”

Boston should receive a defensive boost when injured players Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk – who led the team in defensive rating last season – return to the lineup.

Horford and Olynyk could play as soon as Wednesday in Washington D.C., and Crowder may be just a week away from returning from a sprained ankle.

Their presence alone, however, will not make the difference. Boston has 12 other guys on the team who all need to step up on the defensive end when their name is called. They must collectively change their approach by transitioning from this finesse phase to becoming a more physical unit.

“You can change it with position. You can change it with effort. You can change it with desire,” explained the coach.

Bradley says he sees that desire every day in the practice gym, but the team needs to start showing it more consistently when it counts.

“I know it’s (frustrating) for Brad because he sees us compete in practice, and some nights we’re competing on the defensive end, but to not do it on a consistent basis is frustrating.”

That being said, the season is very young, and there is plenty of time to iron out the kinks.

“I mean this is only our sixth game,” said Bradley, “so I’m happy this is happening now so we’re able to fix it.”

Boston will get back to work tomorrow at their training facility in Waltham, Massachusetts, and you can bet they’ll be honing in on their defensive efforts. Then it’s off to D.C. where they will look to take a more aggressive defensive approach Wednesday night against the Wizards.