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The Read & React: defending #1

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With a game left in the regular season, the Celtics’ defense is looking good.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Cutting down the Nets (Bill Sy): For the night, the Celtics had a 98.9 DefRtg against the Nets. Brooklyn scored 105 points, but that was aided by 39 trips to the foul line. Boston suffocated them to 36% from the field and 8-for-31 from behind the arc.

The Nets employ a ton of movement on the offensive end, running multiple pick-and-rolls and screens to free them up for open looks. They want to force the issue as much as possible—as evidenced by their free throw count—but the Celtics were very good last night on the defensive end, particularly icing pick-and-rolls, rotating on switches, and most importantly, rebounding the ball.

After Isaiah Thomas is forced to switch onto the bigger Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Marcus Smart smartly calls for the switch in the post. IT takes Caris LeVert and Smart forces a tough contested fall away. Teams have been bullying the Celtics on the block when they can force the switch onto smaller defenders, but if Boston can recognize the mismatches and recover, they’ll let teams take long-2’s all night.

Thomas isn’t known for his defense, but he does his job here. After forcing Jeremy Lin into a retreating Al Horford, he fronts a rolling Brook Lopez and fronts him with Jae Crowder collapsing down, too. He closes out on Levert and then Crowder picks him up on the drive. That’s perfect rotation.

Yes, it was in a meaningless regular season game in April and yes, it was against the Nets, but as the Celtics tune up for the playoffs, they have to have their defensive rotations in order. Looking ahead, it may not matter so much against ISO teams like the Bulls and Pacers in the first round, but against the Raptors and the Wizards, they’ll have to be sharp against two All Star laden back courts.