BOSTON – There were plenty of positives that came out of Boston’s four-game sweep of the preseason. There was one area of play, however, that stood out above all others to Kemba Walker and his Celtics teammates: their defense.
Defense just so happens to be the area in which many NBA pundits believed the Celtics would find difficulty this season, but Walker and Co. have seen nothing but promise on that end of the court throughout the preseason.
“I think we have a lot of potential defensively,” Walker said Thursday afternoon following practice at the Celtics’ training facility. “I think that’s going to be our calling card to get us over the hump in games this season. I think as long as we’re locked in defensively, we’ll have a chance to win any game that we’re in.”
Boston provided a consistent taste of that defensive potential throughout its four-game preseason slate. Three of the Celtics’ four opponents failed to reach the 100-point mark, including two that didn’t even exceed 75.
As such, Boston wound up surrendering the fewest preseason points and assists of all 30 NBA teams. It also led in defensive rating, finished second in opponent field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and blocked shots, and third in forced turnovers.
Cleveland forward Larry Nance Jr., whose Cavaliers faced the Celtics twice during the preseason, attributed Boston’s defensive dominance to its length at the wing position.
"You know, they're a pretty big team," Nance said following a 118-72 loss to the C’s Sunday afternoon. "You know, obviously (Jaylen) Brown, (Jayson) Tatum, (Gordon) Hayward on the wings is not easy. This is historically a really good defensive team, so I assume they're going to be that this year."
Outside of the wing position, however, the Celtics are quite small. Three of their guards are 6-foot or shorter, which one may think would give Boston a disadvantage on the defensive end. Six-foot rookie guard Carsen Edwards believes otherwise.
“Everyone out here, they give everything they have,” said Edwards, who dazzled during the final preseason game by knocking down nine 3-pointers, while also providing a strong defensive effort. “That’s something that Brad (Stevens) kind of pushes on us to make sure that, regardless of how the offensive end goes, that we make an impact on defense and be consistent that way, and everything else will kind of fall into place.”
The key to making such a defensive impact falls on the team’s willingness and ability to work together and play on a string. That will be easier said than done following the losses of veteran frontcourt defenders Aron Baynes and Al Horford, but it sure won’t be impossible.
“I think chemistry is a huge part of that,” Stevens said of building defensive habits following Boston’s first preseason game Oct. 6. “Being accountable with each other and getting to know each other … I think that we understand that we have to figure out that end.”
So far on the defensive end, the C’s have done exactly that. They couldn’t have gotten off to much of a better start.
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