C's Offense Keeps Thriving Thanks to Great Defensive Habits

BOSTON –The best offense is a great defense.

That’s a phrase that the hottest team in the NBA swears by.

Over the past two and a half weeks, the Boston Celtics have torched opposing defenses to the tune of a league-high 125.4 points per game. They’ve won all eight of their matchups during that stretch, most recently downing the Atlanta Hawks Friday night at TD Garden, 129-108. And they’ve done it all while continuing to hang their hats on the opposite side of the court.

“Our identity is on the defensive end,” Kyrie Irving insisted following a 24-point, five-rebound, five-assist, four-steal effort against the Hawks. “We have the ability to switch 1 through 5 at times, and we try to keep the teams out of the paint and make them take tough shots down the stretch. We extend our defense up at the top of the key so teams are running their offense with 15, 14 (seconds) on the clock, so we just try to pressure them and then use that to our advantage and create opportunities for the offense.”

The Celtics’ defense created plenty of opportunities for its offense Friday night via the turnover, forcing Atlanta to cough the ball up 24 times over the course of the matchup. That led to a whopping 44 points off of turnovers for the Celtics, marking the highest single-game total of the season league-wide.

Being on the opposing end of that feat was frustrating for first-year head coach Lloyd Pierce, but having helped out on the Philadelphia 76ers’ sidelines over the past five seasons, he also understood that those types of efforts are to be expected out of the C’s.

“There’s a reason they’ve been No. 1 for the past couple of years,” Pierce said of Boston’s defense. “They really crowd the paint, they’ve got versatile defenders, athletic defenders, and they do a good job of staying five guys on a string.”

The Celtics weren’t consistently staying attached to that string during the first quarter of the season, as they dealt with some communication and effort issues early on. Those have been corrected, however, largely thanks to Marcus Smart.

The fifth-year guard was inserted into Boston’s starting rotation right at the start of its winning streak, and the team has leaned on his tenacity and leadership ever since.

“He’s able to guard multiple positions,” said Irving, “he’s very communicative on the defensive end, making sure we’re in the right spots, and I think that for him – most guys are pretty even keeled, but for him – when he’s all the way to his maximum, everyone follows suit.”

When Smart’s teammates see him diving on a loose ball or taking a charge, that makes them want to do the same. It gets them all on the same page and allows them to play on a string.

Defenses that play on a string tend to force turnovers, and turnovers often lead to easy transition buckets. The Celtics have had plenty of those during their eight-game winning streak, which has enabled their offense to put up some crazy numbers.

“Our offense has picked up, obviously, in the last three weeks or so,” said coach Brad Stevens. “So, we’ve just got to make sure our defense stays at the level it needs to.”

Because the best offense is a great defense.


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