The Celtics will be hanging their hat on defense this season. It should not come as any surprise, seeing as how the team won with defense back in 2008 and the fans and critics alike harped on the fact that when Kevin Garnett went down last season, the defense was going to take a worse hit than any other aspect of the team's identity.
Preseason numbers are skewed and need to be taken with a grain of salt, but so far in the six games the Celtics have played in this warmup season, opponents haven't reached the century mark once. In three of the six games, opponent haven't even managed to reach 90 total points. Again, with certain players having their minutes restricted, the numbers might not paint the entire picture, but it cannot be denied that the Celtics have shown so far that they intend to dominate opponents on the defensive end.
That's why I want to talk about the offense instead. The Celtics have managed to put up at least 90 points in every game so far and have surpassed the 100-point plateau in half the contests. The stats themselves are not as compelling (it being preseason and all) as the ways in which the players have scored so far. That observation was compounded on Sunday when the C's dismantled the Raptors, 101-82. The Raptors might not be much of a defensive team, but even the squads who bolster substantial defensive resumes will have difficulty containing the Celtics' multi-pronged offensive arsenal.
When the game commenced on Sunday and Ray Allen buried his first two buckets to get the C's rolling, I immediately thought Doc Rivers and co. were making a concerted effort to get him going. As a result, I figured Toronto would have to adjust whatever defensive scheme they might have been employing to better combat Allen's game.
But soon after Ray buried multiple shots, Kevin Garnett got in on the scoring act. His jump shot was falling from every conceivable angle on the floor. Some were from his typical comfort zone, while others came from slightly farther out and one particular attempt involved two unsuccessful upfakes on Chris Bosh, yet by incorporating a steady fade away motion, KG got it to go.
Then, before Toronto even knew what was happening, the Celtics were off and running, utilizing a brisk pace that some might have thought this team was incapable of reaching. Rajon Rondo was hanging in the passing lanes and Garnett, the man supposedly still recovering from knee surgery, was out sprinting everybody. How could the Raptors possibly contain this team when they were apparently executing their sets so flawlessly in the half court, while also exploiting Toronto in the open court when the opportunities arrived?
And when Rondo left with 2:32 left in the opening frame, in favor of Marquis Daniels, the Raptors received no reprieve. 27 seconds after checking in, Daniels took an outlet pass from Rasheed Wallace, advanced the ball to Paul Pierce, who took a few dribbles, managed to force Chris Bosh into the air and out of the way and ultimately fed Allen who cut inside for an easy layup.
That play capped off a 9-0 offensive spurt for the Celtics, and when the first frame was over, Boston led 33-23. The scariest part of that for the Raptors was not the fact that they had just allowed 33 points, but that Pierce, arguably the Celtics' best offensive player, had only two points. Allen finished the quarter with 12 points on 5-5 shooting and Garnett posted 11 points on 5-7 shooting.
It's been acknowledged that the Celtics have not instituted a single play for Pierce or Allen thus far.
"We’ve put nothing in for Ray (Allen) or for Paul (Pierce) so far," the Celtics coach said of his offensive sets. "But that’s on purpose that we haven’t done that until now."
The one other play that truly made me shake my head in wonderment at the Celtics' scoring threats came with 1:04 left in the third quarter, when a lone Toronto defender had to deal with a wide open Allen and a rotating Rasheed Wallace, who was roaming to a bare spot in the corner. The defender elected to pursue Allen, who promptly fed Wallace and watched as 'Sheed buried the open three. Normally covering Ray Allen would be the smartest move, but not necessarily when the man left open is Rasheed Wallace. Is there even a right decision in that scenario? Sure, if a guy like Jiri Welsch was parked in the corner the answer might seem obvious, but when you're dealing with two perennial All-Stars the odds are automatically stacked against you. I'm confident opposing defenses will have to make similar decisions as the season progresses, only the play might involve Allen and Pierce, or Garnett and Wallace, or Pierce and Garnett, etc.
What's more is that this group, comprised primarily of battle tested, title hungry veterans could seemingly discard personal statistics in favor of the greater cause. Not once has a single player even mentioned wanting more minutes or more touches or more looks at the basket. Not even a guy like Pierce, a career 22.9 points per game scorer, cares more about personal achievements than winning another title.
"I’m not really worried about it," Pierce said of ramping up the offense heading into today’s exhibition game in Toronto. "We’re in a good flow. When Doc decides to put in a play, that’s fine. But it’s not a problem."
That selflessness that has been instilled into the mindset of this team could potentially serve as one of the primary reasons it ultimately achieves the highest level of success. These players will lean on one another and what's more is that this roster arguably has six players capable of scoring over 20 points any given game: Pierce, Allen, Garnett, Wallace, Rondo and Davis. That means, given the consistency the majority of these players have shown in their scoring, that on any given night throughout the season, it would seem practically impossible for all of them to have an "off" night. In years past, if Pierce's shot wasn't falling, the team would struggle mightily. With this group, if Pierce doesn't have it one night, there's a distinct probability that one of the other five will be there to pick up the slack.
While we're at it, we might as well add Eddie House and Daniels to that group as well. House is capable of catching fire at any minute, while Daniels is a capable enough slasher to score on a steady combination of "tweener" shots, layups and free throws.
This offensive juggernaut will prove devastating to opponents. On any given night the opposition might put its best foot forward to subdue Allen or Pierce or Garnett or whoever, but in the midst of that another scoring force will emerge, ready to exploit any weaknesses the defense is allowing. The attack comes from all angles and all distances from the hoop. On most nights, if not all nights, the defense will surely be forced to pick its poison.