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Celtics stress defense first, defense stresses Magic out

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NBA: Preseason-Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Through two games, the Celtics have generated 47 turnovers, 21 coming against the Magic last night. Against Orlando and Charlotte, they’ve averaged nearly 30 points off turnovers. Sure, it’s a small sample size and preseason numbers to boot, but the TO’s are an indication of a culture change in Boston.

Under Brad Stevens, the Celtics have had a top-6 defense in three out of the last four seasons. They’ve done it in large part by being one of the best teams defending the arc and daring opposing teams to beat them with long-2’s. With a younger, quicker, and more versatile roster this season, it looks like they’ll be a little more aggressive.

“Ball pressure has been our #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 thing that we’ve been emphasizing,” Stevens said after a 100-75 thrashing of the Magic. “I thought our guys were with that tonight.” Instead of taking a more analytical approach to shooting percentages and shot charts, the Celtics will look to take the fight to opposing teams rather than just baiting them to make mistakes.

There were hints of this during the summer. Grant Williams talked about becoming more of a pressure defender rather than just conservatively dropping back in coverage to avoid the blow by. Tatum has put in work on his on-ball technique and vowed to join Marcus Smart (along with Jaylen Brown) on the All-NBA Defensive Team.

In the past, you might not see Gordon Hayward play Aaron Gordon so closely, particularly behind the arc, but the Celtics have been making concerted efforts to eliminate any breathing room and really get into opposing ball handlers.

The defensive rotation here is just beautiful. There’s been some expected worry about the center position since Al Horford’s departure, but over the last two games, we’ve seen strong footwork from Boston’s pair of Euro five men, Daniel Theis and Vincent Poirier. Theis does a great job switching onto D.J. Augustin and staying on the floor. And watch how quickly Hayward and Tatum turn to meet the cutters in the lane. As soon as Augustin puts himself in jail by picking up his dribble, they cut off Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba.

The Celtics pick-and-roll defense looks similar to years past with the big dropping down to guard the paint and the on-ball defender dropping down to cut off the pass. What works so well here is Carsen Edwards tagging the driving Isaac and the rangy Tatum getting a piece of the dump pass to Bamba.

The increased ball pressure is just another example of Stevens adjusting his game plan based on his available personnel. The Celtics are loaded on the perimeter with long wings and hungry pit bulls. Against a taller and bigger Magic squad, they eliminated the size mismatch by forcing them to put it on the floor. It’s a good facsimile of what they might face on October 23rd when they open the season in Philadelphia vs. Joel Embiid, Al Horford, and Ben Simmons on the front line.