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Where the Celtics defense is failing

The Celtics are daring teams to shoot the mid-range jumper, but a lack of an inside presence has opposing guards attacking the rim at an alarming rate. Will Brad Stevens change his defensive scheme or his lineup?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Analytically, it makes sense.  The mid-range jumper is the most inefficient shot in the game and if you can get a team to shoot long twos, that's half the battle.  However, Boston is hurting on that front and that's causing them to lose the war.  The Celtics are only 23rd in the league at forcing teams to the mid-range at 19.1 FGA per game with the only saving grace that teams are shooting a relatively low percentage at 38.4% (for 8th best).

What's happening is that instead of settling for the 15-footer, attack guards are testing Boston's bigs to protect the rim.  The Celtics are giving up the second most attempts in the restricted area at 29.7 FGA per game.  Often times, that's put Kelly Olynyk in early foul trouble and against the Suns on Monday night, on the bench for most of the second half.

Last season, Kevin chronicled Boston's pick-and-roll defense and earlier this season, wrote about how Stevens wanted to be more aggressive with the team's PnR coverage in 2014-2015.  So far, that hasn't really happened.  We've both been critical with how they've dealt with screens particularly against offensive juggernauts Toronto and Dallas and it was an issue again against Phoenix.

In pick and rolls, Boston has opted to either ice or zone the ball handler (for more, check out SBNation NBA's more detailed explanation of the varying ways teams choose to defend PnR's.)  In short, it means that the bigs are pedaling back into the key and giving guards lots of room to shoot.  Unfortunately, instead of settling, attack guards are forcing the issue and using the space to create a better shot.  In other words, teams are taking what we're giving them; teams are taking whatever they want.  Frankly, it's the difference between being a team that dictates what an opposing team can do on offense vs. a team that's just married to the numbers of their scouting reports and and just playing percentages.


Whether they're ICEing ball handlers towards the side or baseline or dropping into a zone at the nail, opposing teams are tuning up the Celtics, particularly the bigs.  There are fewer and fewer traditional post players in the league, so defenses have adjusted and a need for a more athletic and mobile back court is a necessity to survive in today's NBA.  In the past, Doc would have been much more aggressive with PnR's, often blitzing them or using Kevin Garnett on a big show to cut off the ball handler's movement.  I think one of the big reasons that that Stevens opted to start Brandon Bass in the second half of the Suns game was because of his ability to make up ground in picks or even switch onto quicker guards.

Despite the fact that Olynyk and Sullinger do seem quicker this season, it's still not fast enough.  All the benefits the team reaps on the offense end are negated if they're giving up good looks on defense.  Olynyk will still remain as the starting center, but I'd imagine that Stevens will try more pairings with combinations of Olynyk/Sullinger with Bass/Zeller.  There are few teams that can boast a three-headed monster with the likes of Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe, but as long Boston is willing to play pick-and-rolls so passively, it won't matter who the Celtics are playing against.  Tonight, I'll be interested to see how they defend Tony Wroten.  He's not the most efficient point guard, but he's averaging 7 free throws a game and he'll drive it to the rack with any chance he gets.

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