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The Read & React: new year, old defense

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The Celtics turned in their fifth straight win in another defensive battle, holding the Timberwolves to under 37% shooting.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Since giving up 111 points in a loss to the Wizards on Christmas Day, the Celtics have clamped down on D. They’ve won five in a row including three wins against the Rockets, Cavaliers, and Timberwolves, three out of the top-5 offenses in the league. During that stretch, they’ve boasted a stingy 94.3 DefRtg and outrebounded the opposing team in 4 out of 5 games (they gave up an abysmal 19 offensive rebounds to the Hornets and still won).

Last night, Karl Anthony-Towns put together a hefty fantasy line of 25 points and 23 rebounds, but the Celtics are happy giving up big games to big men. Brad Stevens would prefer the ball go into the post and the offense stagnate in the paint. KAT made 9 out of 16 shots, but he had only one assist. Boston almost never double teams and puts more emphasis on the wings; drivers hitting the paint or threes coming off of ball rotation are more dangerous to Stevens than a well-contested hook shot or fade away. To wit, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins combined for 6-for-24 shooting with nearly as many assists (7) as turnovers (6).

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

As dynamic as the array of defenders that the Celtics have, their defensive strategy is simple: guide opposing teams to the sidelines and eliminate straight line paint touches. It’s best illustrated in their pick-and-roll D. This is their typical ICE approach to the pick-and-roll. They’ll shadow ball handlers away from the basket and give up the long-2.

The Timberwolves settling on offense was more stark with Wiggins with the ball.

It’s not just their scheme vs. PnR’s. You have to have plus defenders that can stay in front of the league’s best wings.

So, even on a night where the Celtics shot a dismal 6-for-36 from behind the arc and gave the TWolves a 15-attempts edge from the free throw line, they were able to put away a very good offensive team on the strength of their defense.

Bobby Manning: Facing efficiency issues, shooting the three at a league-worst rate early on and frustrating nearly everyone watching many wondered why Marcus Smart didn’t return to basics. At Oklahoma State, Smart’s game centered around penetration and a prowess for the in-between game that disappeared into thin air as he integrated into Brad Stevens’ system. His new pair of go-to plays have become spot-up jumpers and miscellaneous hustle plays such as flying put-backs. That’s led to inconsistency and widespread anger aimed at his offense. But with a simple adjustment in style, he not only looked steady and good on that end, he essentially won the game by finishing shots his teammates could not against Minnesota. He displayed a soft touch around the rim, burst to the rim on numerous plays and hit two long jumpers inside the arc off the dribble. His approach reflected the one once taken by Evan Turner in green, not a popularly efficient in-between game but one that could reliably produce made shots. Smart was taking shots inside the arc as he cruised to 7-of-11 to start Friday night that looked comfortable for him. It was a scrappy night where all structure seemed to go to the waste bin, especially when Stevens courted two centers, but now there’s definitive film that a style adjustment could yield better offensive results for Smart.