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Ball pressure becomes early staple to Celtics defense

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With such a young, deep roster, Brad Stevens has dialed up the defense.

NBA: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After Boston’s blowout win at Madison Square Garden Saturday night, Brad Stevens was asked specifically about Carsen Edwards. Edwards had not played the night before in the home opener against Toronto, but produced 10 of the Celtics’ 118 points against the Knicks. It was a strong offensive showing for a rookie that many have nicknamed “Eddie House” for his ability to catch fire from the field. Just a few weeks ago in a preseason game in Cleveland, Edwards hit eight three-pointers in a quarter.

But instead of talking about Edwards’ offensive contributions, Stevens pointed to his defense. “I’m not worried with Carsen missing much. I don’t think he’s worried about it either,” Stevens said after Edwards has started the season hitting just 4-of-16 of his shots. “I talked to Carsen last night on the plane. I just think that sometimes on back-to-backs especially, having a guy you can throw in there who didn’t play the night before and energize the whole group is important. He did a great job with ball pressure and making shots. As long as he’s pressuring the ball, he’s got the green light. He can really stroke it. Him coming off screens, he demands a lot of attention.”

While Edwards is known more for 1) his offense and 2) his thighs, it’s notably that Stevens’ emphasized that it’s his defense that will ultimately keep him on the floor. That’s been a lasting theme since the start of training camp not just for Edwards, but the entire team. Ball pressure, ball pressure, ball pressure.

NBA: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

So far, that message has hit home. It’s early, but the Celtics tearing up opposing offenses. Over the first three games, they’re forcing 22 turnovers per game. By comparison, over the last three seasons, around sixteen per game has been the gold standard. It’s likely an unsustainable pace, but against the Knicks, they forced a whopping 26. To be fair, New York may not have been the best test study. In their two previous games, they had already coughed up the ball forty times to Brooklyn and San Antonio. However, it does show Boston’s commitment to disrupting passing lanes and helping on defense.

Without an established rim protector to deter paint touches and clean up perimeter mistakes, Boston has decided to bring the fight to teams early, playing up on ball handlers and staying active in passing lanes. Boston is one of the shortest teams in the league. They don’t have towering centers in the front court, but they’re long on the wings and are using their length to their advantage.

Those live ball turnovers have translated into fast breaks and easy buckets, too. The Celtics lead the league in points off turnovers at 27.3 per game. On the flip side, Boston has been careful with their own TO’s. They averaged 11.3 per game in their opening week, tops in the NBA. That’s helped buoy an offense that is 26th in eFG% so far.

It’s not just steals and deflections. The Celtics also lead the NBA in total charges drawn at 8. Kemba Walker is tied for the most with 4; in Charlotte last season, he was third in the NBA with 27. Grant Williams has two. After Boston pulled out a hard fought win against the defending champs when the team went small with Williams at the 5, Walker said, “we just scrambled. We just played tough. That’s how it has to be. We’re not that big. We’re just going to have to cover for each. I thought we did a great job of that.”

All stats accurate as of October 27th, 2019 per NBA Stats.