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Boston Celtics showed progression on defense, despite 24 points from Kyle Korver

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Despite 24 points from Kyle Korver, the Boston Celtics still showed signs of life on the defensive end last night.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Korver torched the Boston Celtics to the tune of 24 points, as he led the Atlanta Hawks to a 109-105 victory on Tuesday night. Sharpshooters have tattered the Celtics in a similar fashion this season, but Korver's explosive performance was different, because Boston's defense against the 42.8 percent career three-point shooter was actually acceptable.

Teams have burned Boston from behind the arc at a 40.1 percent clip this year, so Brad Stevens made it a point during pregame that containing Korver, one of the NBA's most deadly shooters, was the key to success.

"He averages 13 points per game, right? But you go into the game and you have to treat him like he averages 30, or else it could be 30," Stevens said at Tuesday morning's shoot around, per "He presents a whole lot of challenges in his cuts, how much attention you give him off his cuts, and how much he opens up for everybody else."

Stevens' concerns partially derive from Boston's inability to contain three-point specialists in previous games this season. San Antonio's Danny Green scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting on Sunday, and Oklahoma City's Anthony Morrow dog-walked the Celtics with 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting last month.

Of course, Korver scored 24, so Stevens can't be too happy with the box score, but after re-watching the film, I came away a bit encouraged by Boston's defense on him.

Korver only had nine shot attempts, so he wasn't so loose that Atlanta was feeding him the ball at will. According to SportVU, only two of the shots were uncontested, and the "Shot Log" data provides us an even closer look at those stats.

Player Name 2PT Defender Distance 3PT Defender Distance All FGA Defender Distance
Kyle Korver 2.5 3.5 3.3
Anthony Morrow 2.7 6 3.7
Danny Green 3.9 8.7 7.3

This chart might appear intimidating, but it's actually simple. In each column is Boston's average distance in feet of the closest defender guarding the opponent's shot. So, the average Celtics defender was 3.3 feet away from Korver when he attempted a field goal. SportVU considers distances of 0-2 feet as very tight, 2-4 feet as tight, 4-6 feet as open, and 6+ feet as wide open.

The data backs up my belief that Boston was playing pretty solid defense on Korver. Boston typically "over helps" on penetration, leaving perimeter shooters like Morrow and Green wide open to either take a three or dribble once for a pull-up.

As the chart shows, the average Boston defense was 8.7 feet away from Danny Green on the shot release, and six feet away from Anthony Morrow. This is not what you want, but the Celtics managed to stick relatively close to Korver, at just 3.5 feet.

When Atlanta ran pick-and-roll actions, Boston almost never helped off of Korver. If they did, it was just a blatant mistake, but fortunately those didn't happen too often.

In both clips, Dennis Schröder penetrates the lane, but the result of the play is far different. On the first play, Evan Turner inexplicably gets caught ball-watching and loses track of Korver, who drains a lightly contested three. But minutes later, after feeding from his baby bottle to get over the spanking from Korver, Turner learned his lesson and stayed attached to him on the next clip. Even though this technique allows Schröder more room to drive, you can live with it compared to an open three for Korver.

But the real task is stopping Korver when he's moving, since Atlanta typically gets him open looks by utilizing him in creative on and off-ball screen actions. For the most part, Boston stuck to him like glue, but he still hit shots.

On the first play of the game, Korver bated Avery Bradley and dove to the rim, before he quickly flared back to the top of the key, where he had two screens waiting for him. Even in a full sprint, Bradley was unable to get around the screens to get to Korver before the release, but Jeff Green still helped and contested. In the two following clips, Bradley managed to get a hand directly in Korver's face, but he hit one, air-balling the other.

That's what happens against elite players, and the Celtics will have to live with the results, because their process was sound. Going forward, they must continue this aggressive approach versus gunslingers from three, because not every player will shoot the lights out even when contested, like Korver did. The Boston Celtics had their troubles with physicality last night, but defending Kyle Korver was not one of them despite his 24-point outburst.