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Brad Stevens doesn’t see Celtics being ‘sustainably competitive’ without defensive focus

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It was another porous defensive performance from the Celtics.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

This season might be the anomaly for Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics, but it doesn’t take the sting out of how poor the team’s defense has been and continues to be.

Friday night was the latest example of Boston’s sieve of a defense as the Philadelphia 76ers shot 55.6 percent from the field en route to a 122-110 win over the Celtics.

According to our Keith Smith, this Celtics defense is the worst it has been under the direction of Brad Stevens in terms of defensive rating. After another calamitous defensive showing, Boston has defensive rating of 110.8, a mark that is in the bottom of third in the NBA.

“We’re not going to win a game with the group that we have giving up 122 points,” Stevens said. “Until we’re really committed to (defending), I just don’t see us being sustainably competitive.”

What drove Stevens mad about the defensive performance was the lack of late-game execution on that end of the floor.

After Boston whittled a double-digit lead down to a single possession at 103-100 with 4:44 left in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia went on a 10-0 run. And it only took the 76ers 90 seconds to complete the game-altering tear.

Ben Simmons scored seven of Philadelphia’s points during the spurt, not shying away from crunch time like he can at times and going right at the interior of Celtics defense. Tobias Harris, who netted 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting, contributed to the run by knocking down a triple as the 76ers seized control and cruised to the win.

“I’m disappointed in the way that we played in multiple big possessions in the fourth quarter,” Stevens said. “We have to be better, we have to be more detail-oriented. Everything has to be crisper, everything has to be tighter, everything has to be done to perfection even more so when the other team is locked in. Too haphazard in my opinion.”

The Celtics also allowed Joel Embiid to impose his will once again as Embiid poured it on with 38 points while going 11-for-15 from the floor. In the two games versus Boston, Embiid dominated to the tune of 80 points while shooting 23-for-34 (67.6 percent) from the field and making 31-of-36 free throws.

Tristan Thompson didn’t prove to be the defensive stopper the Celtics planned for him to be versus Embiid. Daniel Theis and the Celtics other rotating casts of bigs didn’t fare much better.

But it was Jaylen Brown, the de facto leader for the Celtics with Jayson Tatum still sidelined, who took responsibility for the team’s lackluster defensive performance.

“A lot of that is on me,” Brown said. “I’m one of the defensive captains on this team and I’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be better.”

Now, Brown’s mind-set is on bucking the current trend and trying to help the Celtics get back to being one of the top-rated defenses it has usually been under Stevens.

The core pieces really haven’t changed, the Celtics just have to revitalize their defense-first attitude.

“We got to have that villainous mentality on defense,” Brown said. “We have to follow (Marcus) Smart’s lead and I got to do a better job as a leader on that side of the ball, really making an impact on the defensive side like I know I can.”