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The Read & React: Celtics’ defense has been offensive

After defense had become the team’s identity last season, the Celtics have started this year without it.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Paging the defense (Tim MacLean): We're only six games into the new season, but I'm starting to wonder where the Celtics' top-10 defense has gone. They didn't lose any major contributors over the summer—unless you count Evan Turner, who was much more valuable on the offensive end—and the addition of Al Horford was supposed to make them even better. Granted, Horford's missed the last three games, Jae Crowder is banged up, and it took Marcus Smart a few games to finally make his season debut. But the point is, this is largely the same unit as last year. You always have to proceed with caution so as to not overreact to very early-season trends. It's just concerning. Emmanuel Mudiay should never score 24 points on you at this stage of his career—let alone in a single quarter. The situation is worth monitoring.

Random side note: Avery Bradley had his second 11-rebound game of the season tonight. So far this year he's grabbing 2.2 contested rebounds per game, including 26.8% of all available contested rebounds. That's not really an out-of-this-world number, but considering Bradley is 6-foot-2 on a good day it's impressive nonetheless.

Three point defense to be exact (Jeff Nooney): Posting the “This Is Fine” comic of the dog’s house on fire is pretty trite in 2016, but it’s hard to find a better representation of the Celtic defense right now. Through six games, teams have been lighting them up from deep. Sure it’s a little fluky for guys like Wade and Mudiay to start nailing threes when they play against the Celtics. But the issue isn't just that streaky shooters are getting hot. Coming into this game, Boston was allowing the most three-point attempts per game in the NBA. They also ranked second in 3PAr allowed, which means teams are taking a ton of threes against them regardless of pace. Combine that with giving up 38% from three after six games, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Now, this will likely turn around due to regression to the mean and players returning from injury. Until then though, it’s an issue to keep tabs on.

Could it just be bad luck? (Lachlan Marr): It’s not just luck...

You’ve probably seen the Celtics’ ‘It’s not just luck’ promotional campaign for this season as it plays like a bazillion times during home games. Trailing twenty to the Denver Nuggets while at home, the repetitive nature of those ads seemed to take on an almost sinister tone as it became clear that such a slogan can cut both ways.

It’s not just luck that allowed the Chicago Bulls and now the Denver Nuggets to have almost historically great shooting nights against the Celtics. It’s not just luck that has left this Celtics squad with one of the worst (if not now, the worst) defensive ratings in the entire league. Teams aren’t getting lucky against the Celtics—they’re outplaying them.

Sure, it actually is bad luck that both Horford and Crowder have been out for a string of games early in the season, but the Celtics should know better than to rely on luck, unless I’m missing the entire point of the campaign.

All talk (Bill Sy): We just got bullied tonight. Like Brad Stevens said in his post-game presser, “I think we play like a finesse team and (the Nuggets) play physical.” Does that sound like the Celtics to you? But here’s the proof:

Time and time again, Boston would simply get run over by Denver’s aggressiveness. Whether it was in the post, guards attacking ICE’d PnR’s with the big backpeddling in the restricted area, or Chandler or Gallo putting their heads down and driving towards the rim, the Celtics had no answer when the Nuggets decided to go downhill.

We saw this so many times in Cleveland last Thursday. LeBron James would work out of a pick, force the switch on defense, and muscle through the paint. If the Celtics can’t put up a fight against the Nuggets, what chance will we have vs. the Cavaliers?

Schematically, Boston invites this aggressiveness like a bullfighter. It’s like a game of truth or dare. Choose truth and they’ll keep you honest by giving you the mid-range jumper. But choose dare and you’re going to have to attack a retreating defense as they pack the paint. Unfortunately, the Cavs and Nuggets have dared and succeeded.

Not only has Horford been missing from the middle, but also the Celtics have been weak on the wing. Crowder on Gallinari and Chandler would have certainly helped, but the Celtics have also lacked a third defender clamping down on penetration. Stevens said earlier in the week that they weren’t turning teams over because they weren’t in the right position. In the past, you’d see an off-ball player—Smart and Bradley are great at this—interrupting a drive by just stepping in their way or forcing the opponent to pick up his dribble with a swipe attempt.

Paging Terry Rozier (Alex Kungu): It’s not worth getting too worried about things like defensive ranking when the samples are so small that a two-game stretch could take you from league worst to top 10. However, one thing I would be a little concerned about is the play of Terry Rozier. After a blistering start in the preseason, Rozier has shown some of the same tentativeness from his first season, and it’s prompted Stevens to lower his time as the primary ball-handler. As of last night, Stevens even gave rookie Demetrius Jackson some of Rozier’s minutes. For a team that was relying on Rozier to help alleviate the loss of Evan Turner, he hasn’t been seizing the opportunity.

And get well, Jae (Bobby Manning): Through the scope of his absence more than his presence, Jae Crowder's importance to the Celtics is becoming more evident. He could be the most important player on the roster. After his high ankle sprain vs. Houston, a team that was 12 games over .500 played only 2 games over .500 the rest of the way in 2015-16, and it ultimately lost in six in the first round. It's hard to view his most recent injury's effect on the team independent of Al Horford's, especially where both play a prominent role defensively in the front court. However, the three-point shooting (47%) Crowder provided has been sorely missed in combination with his 108 defensive rating that was by and far the team's best in the small sample of time he played before landing on Rajon Rondo. Rondo'd again.

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