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The Read & React: the defense is back

After a miserable January, the Celtics’ D is starting to look like last year’s suffocating defense just in time for the playoffs.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics defense trending in the right direction (Bill Sy): Three years ago, the Celtics and Lakers started their rebuilds by drafting Marcus Smart and Julius Randle respectively. Randle was touted as a high energy ISO power forward coming out of Kentucky. Smart was less heralded, but he had a bulldog mentality on defense and a nose for the ball.

That character profile has been the template for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens since. Whether you’re talking about keeping Avery Bradley or trading for Jae Crowder or later drafting Jaylen Brown, a commitment to defense and a chip on the shoulder have been the hallmarks of the rebuild.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After the team back slid in January on the defensive end (averaging a 108.3 defensive rating), they’ve come on strong. Since that dud of a game a month ago in Sacramento, the Celtics are 7-3 and what has bolstered their current surge has been their defense. In that time span, they’ve sported a 103.9 defensive rating, good for 7th in the NBA. And now, with the return of Avery Bradley and the rapid development of Jaylen Brown on both ends, Boston is peaking at the right time and could head into the playoffs with a defensive intensity that could match last year’s feisty team.

Whether it was against the defending champs on Wednesday or a tanking Laker squad last night, Boston has taken a page out of Golden State’s Death Lineup with different combinations of Smart, Crowder, Bradley, Brown, and Horford to switch all picks and force opposing teams to beat them one-on-one. It’s simple, but if they can keep themselves between the ball and the hoop, they’ll be fine.

After the game, Isaiah Thomas told reporters that Crowder, Smart, and Bradley deserved to be first time All-Defense. After the team’s latest stretch, it’s hard to argue with that point.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Feed the big man (Alex Kungu): Al Horford has needed something. The big has been struggling to put the ball in the basket and it’s been drawing the ire of Celtics fans. Tonight, Stevens mixed in Horford with the second unit to maximize his opportunities and the big finally looked comfortable posting and scoring. Lakers aren’t a team known for their fierce defense, but sometimes when you’re struggling, you just need to see the ball go int the basket a couple times. Horford finally got that satisfaction after a 17 point game in which he was 8-12 from the field. With a stretch of less than stellar opponents to end the season, this is would be an opportune time to make sure Horford his on the up as we prepare for the playoff run.

Highlight factory: That nickname was coined by CSNNE’s Abby Chin. You’ll be seeing this a lot with more to come as JB continues to impress:

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