addByline("Taylor Snow", "Celtics.com", "taylorcsnow");
As the Boston Celtics pieced their roster together this past summer, Jaylen Brown could see a defensive juggernaut being born.
Sure enough, the Celtics have become the most dominant defensive team in the NBA in recent times and find themselves in a position to surge up the Eastern Conference rankings.
On Sunday night, Boston levitated to a 116-83 win over the Orlando Magic at Amway Center, marking its fifth instance of the season in holding an opponent under 85 points. By comparison, no other NBA team has logged more than two such efforts.
It also marked the seventh win in the last eight games for the Celtics, who now sit just 4.5 games out of first place in the East with a record of 30-25. Six of those seven wins came while holding their opponent under 100 points, further proving the accuracy of Brown’s preseason vision.
“Before the season I think that the way our team was structured, we had a defensive group,” Brown said following a game-best 26-point effort against the Magic. “We had a lot of guys who made names for themselves on the defensive side of the basketball, and I think this is what we imagined when we all started.”
It took a little bit of time for the Celtics to get used to first-year head coach Ime Udoka’s defensive system, but they have gradually grown more steadfast over the last few months.
Boston has been especially strong on that end of the floor over the past 15 games. During that span, the C’s have posted a league-best defensive rating of 100.8, placing them on an entirely different level from the remainder of the top 10 teams, which range from 106.4 to 109.4.
Much of Boston’s recent dominance has to do with the fact that its regular starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Rob Williams, and Al Horford has been entirely healthy for the past eight games. That specific group has a league-best defensive rating of 89.8 this season, while no other five-man lineup with at least 250 minutes under its belt has logged better than a 97.2 defensive rating.
As a result, the Celtics have gotten off to some incredible starts lately, including Sunday night when they held Orlando to just 15 points during the first quarter.
“It's suffocating at times, with our size and versatility,” Udoka said of his team’s defensive presence. “We’ve got big wings, versatile bigs, and obviously a pit bull for a point guard (in Smart), so there's no real weakness out there, nobody to pick on, which is the case with other teams at times, so we're getting off to really good starts.
Udoka has gotten great use out of his double-big lineup with Horford mainly guarding opposing centers and Williams acting as a roamer who can guard any position. Brown and Tatum come in handy at the wing, using their length to guard opposing perimeter threats. And Marcus Smart is the defensive backbone, providing intensity, fearlessness, and a willingness to guard players of all skills and sizes.
“This is kind of what we envisioned and it's coming to fruition now that we have some consistency with our lineups,” said Udoka. “We're living up to our identity. We talk about it coming out to jump out with the right intention early and not give teams hope or make it tough on them from the get-go.”
The Celtics haven’t given teams much hope out of the gate of late, posting an absurd first-quarter defensive rating of 78.4 over their last eight games. Four of those matchups have resulted in blowout wins of at least 29 points.
It’s been as strong of a defensive stretch that the Celtics have experienced in quite some time, and it’s exactly the type of dominance that the team envisioned when piecing together its roster.