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Do the Celtics really have a defensive problem?

Celtics’ defense hasn't been great, but is it actually an issue?

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

The Celtics’ defense has not been great. In fact, they’re ranked 29th in defensive efficiency during the first 6 games; only the Knicks are worse. Stevens has called the team “finesse”, Isaiah Thomas said the Celtics weren’t as good as they thought they were, and Celtics Twitter has lost its collective mind over the team’s poor play on that end of the floor. So I’m here to say one thing:

The Celtics have only played six games, all without their full roster. This is the time of the year where teams are figuring themselves out and coaches are tweaking their rotations. For Boston, the task has been even harder considering they’ve been without Marcus Smart, (who just returned), Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, and prized free agent Al Horford. These injuries force the Celtics to rely on a second unit primarily filled with young and inexperienced players or low-grade vets who are made for situational purposes. This has forced the Celtics into some really weird lineups, like last night where they played Thomas-Jackson-Bradley-Smart-Zeller in a desperate attempt to accelerate the pace even more.

The results have been up and down for sure, but should that be unexpected? The defense isn’t going to suddenly take a plunge out of nowhere. The Nets were dead in the water before a late surge by their second unit brought the game closer than expected. The Bulls, who are led by non-shooters, shot 44% from three. Then the Celtics had a game against the Cavaliers, one of the top offenses in the league, without Crowder, Horford, or Olynyk. Finally, they played a Nuggets team who, despite being one of the worst shooting teams in the league, shot a blistering 47.8% from three and got 30 points on 60% shooting from three by Emmanuel Mudiay, another career non-shooter. If this happened in the middle of the season we’d think nothing of it, just a tough stretch for the Cs. However, because the season just started, and these are the only games we have to work with, there’s an urge to be swayed by small sample sizes.

Truth be told, the Celtics have shown some foreseeable problems. For one, the second unit will not be a strong as last season. Though Marcus Smart seems ready to be the next ball handler off the bench, nothing else in the rotation seems to have much cohesion. Jonas Jerebko is shooting under 35% from the field and 28.6% from three. The Rozier hype train has been slowed all the way down. He still looks tentative on the offensive end, and he hasn’t brought the necessary energy that the second unit needs on a consistent basis. Olynyk returning will help, but others will still need to raise their level of play if Boston plans on relying on their depth throughout the regular season.

The Celtics didn't come into the season blistering to a hot start like we hoped they would, but that doesn’t mean the sky is falling either. Judge the Celtics after a few months of regular rotations with their full roster; anything before that is just noise.

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