Boston's Defensive Trio is Unmatched in NBA

BOSTON – Avery Bradley, Maecus Smart and Jae Crowder. Call them the three-headed monster.

Better yet, call them the three-headed defensive monster.

Does one like this exist anywhere else in the league?

“Three defensive players like us?” Jae Crowder said with a smirk. “I would say no.”

Approached with a similar question, Bradley commented, “I think we have three of the best defenders in the NBA.”

It would be difficult to argue against their views, even if they may be biased. Where else in the league can one find two lockdown perimeter defenders and another high-level defender who can guard multiple positions, all of whom received All-Defensive First Team votes last season?

Nowhere.

Bradley is the core of this three-headed, defensive monster. He has shown time and time again this season that he is quite possibly the premier perimeter defender in the NBA. He is the player who has been draped all over superstar scorers during crunch time this season, forcing key miss after key miss.

Ask Kyrie Irving. Ask Stephen Curry. Ask Klay Thompson.

Bradley isn’t afraid of them, or the moment.

“Not only [do my coaches and teammates believe in me], but me wanting to do that,” Bradley said of why he’s able to play such great defense in the clutch. “I like going up against Kyrie the last play, or even Milwaukee. That last play [Malcolm Brogdon] made, it was unfortunate, but whenever I’m in that position to help our team win a game, they believe in me and I believe that I have a chance every single time.”

Bradley may be just as confident in Smart’s ability to force misses. The longest-tenured Celtic raved Tuesday afternoon about Smart’s defensive drive.

“He deserves to be on the (All-Defensive) team this year. No way he should be off the team,” Bradley said. “Marcus has definitely proved to be one of the best defenders in the NBA, night-in and night-out.

“The energy he plays with every single possession, I just respect his approach to the game on the defensive end and I hope everybody else does in the NBA and sees that he should be on the team every single year.”

Brad Stevens chimed in on the topic to give context as to why Smart has become such a great defensive player in just his third NBA season.

“His understanding of schemes and all of those things, and when to help and when not to help, were always at a really high level coming in,” Stevens said, later adding, “And I just think as you get further along in this, you get more experience with who likes to do what, chances to guard people and individuals in the past, and then apply that feel from an instincts and an understanding perspective to the individual teams and players you’re playing against.”

In other words, Smart has learned the league, and the league has in turn learned of his ability to be a stopper.

Crowder, who missed a selection to the All-Defensive Second Team last season by only one vote – which he quickly pointed out Tuesday afternoon – is a much different defender. He isn’t necessarily the player who Boston will throw at an opponent’s top scorer every single night. Instead, he acts as their Swiss Army knife, providing a critical level of versatility that the team would otherwise be missing.

“He’s a really good defender who can guard multiple positions,” Isaiah Thomas said, “and we’re able to do a little more on the defensive end when he’s out there.”

Crowder is capable of defending shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards, all at a high level. Such versatility allows the Celtics to comfortably switch on virtually ever pick-and-roll he’s involved in, which in turn keeps Boston in prime position to get stops.

As one might expect, opponents have struggled when this trio has been on the court together. Lineups that include Bradley, Smart and Crowder have limited opponents to only 44.4 percent shooting from the field and 31.0 percent from long range this season in 352 minutes of action.

Perhaps even more telling is the fact that opponents have accumulated a measly assist-to-turnover ratio of only 1.32-to-1 against such lineups. To put that into perspective, 28 of the 30 teams in the NBA have a better assist-to-turnover ratio than that mark this season.

Collectively, this trio great, as evidenced by the numbers.

Individually, these defenders are great, as evidenced by their reputations and All-Defensive Team votes.

That’s why they make up a three-headed defensive monster, one which can only be found in Boston.