Doc Rivers and his aging big 3 usually played at a turtle's pace. That was fine because they usually locked people down in their half court defense (at least in the early years). Now Brad Stevens has his young Celtics playing at a higher pace, making Tommy proud with their transition game. But is all that running costing us on the defensive end? Brad Stevens doesn't think so.
Stevens does face a dilemma here. The Celtics have lived up to his aspirations for an accelerated pace, and remain third in the league in scoring average at 107.4 points per game. But they also rank 29th in scoring defense (109.4). Though he doesn’t see a relationship between the two numbers, he admits that statistics may eventually prove him wrong.
"I can’t see any correlation between the two of those things," he said. "That may be statistically proven. Look at some of the higher scoring teams in the league. But if you looked at the totality of one of our practices, it’s probably 60/40 the other way. We’re trying to emphasize the other end of the floor more. We just have to get better at it."
The key, it would seem, is focusing on transition defense. Something that should be aided with the return of Marcus Smart. The Celtics are losing a lot of close games and if they are able to make a few extra stops simply by running back and setting up their D quicker, that could be the difference between a W and a L.
Another factor may simply be learning to play together as a unit on defense.
The biggest issue Stevens sees is that Boston's success defensively is predicated on team defense. All five players must work together to create stops, and each piece of that puzzle has disappeared at different times. There's not one glaring area to fix, it's simply a need to get a full 48 minutes of effort out of each position. "I think all five guys being on the same page each possession," captain Rajon Rondo said when asked about fixing the team's defense. "It may be four guys one possession, then one breaks down, it hurts our entire defense and teams capitalize on us. We have to continue to be on the same page. Especially in the crunch-time moments of the game."
All this is something that takes time and practice to perfect. They don't have an ideal rim protector but with smart, crisp rotations, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. If everyone is where they should be, then a trust is built up between teammates and they can be even more aggressive.
I'm not as good at breaking down game film as some of the other fine writers on this site. But in my mind's eye, I can picture Evan Turner "showing" on a screen but getting burned because the big man rotation left his man an open lane to the basket. The next time down the court he might not "show" as much, hoping to slow him man down, but that leaves holes elsewhere and breaks down the effectiveness of the scheme.
Now, fast forward a few months into the season and the rotations are where they should be. Now Turner can fly out to disrupt the ball handler, knowing that his bigs have his back. Then he forces a pass that is rushed which gets picked off by Marcus Smart and all of a sudden everyone in green is running downhill on a fast break. You can see how a little bit of trust can make a big difference on defense.