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Defensive breakdowns abound: Takeaways from Celtics-Bulls

Boston’s defense was bad in the 3-0 start, but it really fell apart in the loss in Chicago.

Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

1. The Boston Celtics defense is broken right now. That was pretty evident during the team’s 3-0 start, but they won all those games, so it was kind of easy to shrug off.

Against the Chicago Bulls, all doubt was removed about the defense being way off the standard. These takeaways are going to focus on a whole bunch of plays where things fell apart.

Before we begin, let’s add a few qualifiers.

The Celtics don’t have Robert Williams. Would he fix everything? No. Would he help? Absolutely.

It’s been four games. There are guys playing new roles, and a few new faces in the rotation.

Lastly, this is all fixable stuff. It’s not a lack of talent. It’s a lack of effort, execution and communication, with some scheme questions possibly mixed in too.

Let’s dive in.

2. Rebounding is an issue. Al Horford is great at a lot of things, but he’s never been a dominant rebounder. As he’s aged, that’s become even more of a challenge for Horford. But this is embarrassingly easy for Nikola Vucevic. There’s no resistance at all:

3. This is a weird defensive decision by Jaylen Brown. The Celtics trust each of their players to hold their own in their matchup, so they don’t double a lot. When they double, it’s usually a strategic double vs an emergency.

Back to this play…Al Horford seems to have Nikola Vucevic contained. If a double was going to come, it should be Marcus Smart coming off DeMar DeRozan, who isn’t really a three-point threat. Instead, Brown comes off Ayo Dosunmu (the only shooting threat on the floor in this Bulls lineup), while Smart also pinches down. This is just bad scheme and/or execution:

4. DeMar DeRozan has been dribbling into midrange pullups since some of the Celtics were children. Al Horford being in this deep of a drop against DeRozan is awful. Again, it’s either bad scheme or execution:

5. This is a semi-transition play. There’s no reason for Grant Williams to get caught on this “screen” and not just stick with his man. Letting Nikola Vucevic dribble in from the arc to the front of the rim is inexcusable:

6. Alex Caruso isn’t exactly a sharpshooter, but he still needs to be guarded. Noah Vonleh is lost on finding…well…anyone to matchup with in transition here. Instead, Vonleh just kind of hangs around the paint before panicking when he realizes Caruso is who he should have picked up:

7. Switching everything is a staple of the Celtics defensive success. But it comes with some sacrifices. Sometimes that sacrifice is a major mismatch on a post-up. It’s not the end of the world that Nikola Vucevic gets in the post against Malcolm Brogdon. But both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown offer very halfhearted “help” here. It’s not real effort and it’s certainly not real execution:

8. Once again, DeMar DeRozan doesn’t want to take threes. He does want to get to his pullup, or even better, all the way to the rim. That’s why this is a “What the heck is he doing?” moment from Jayson Tatum. He “closes out” to DeRozan, but leaves his hips open and creates a perfect driving lane for the Bulls star to get all the way to the rim:

9. If the Celtics are going to play these super small lineups, and they kind of have to right now, then the guards and wings need to block out and get on the glass. No one even attempts to put on a body on Nikola Vucevic and that leads to the easy and-1 tip-in:

10. Both Al Horford and Jayson Tatum are way too good for this. It’s a lack of communication, effort and execution. Letting a guard get from the arc to the rim without any form of resistance isn’t the defense we’re accustomed to seeing from Boston:

11. It’s hard to even fathom what happens here. Ayo Dosunmu is now shooting 27-of-30 in career games against the Celtics. That includes a perfect 10-of-10 from behind the arc. If there is any player you can’t leave on the Bulls, it’s Dosunmu.

This either needs to be a jump-switch (Tatum could pick up Dosunmu, while letting Horford run out to the corner) or switch-back (where Derrick White recovers to Dosunmu, while Al Horford takes the rolling Nikola Vucevic). The other option is Horford stays with Dosunmu, while White takes Vucevic on the roll to the rim.

Instead, Horford drops off Dosunmu to the paint, while White sticks with Vucevic on the roll. The result is Jayson Tatum being put in an impossible spot. Either help off the short corner or let Dosunmu shoot. Ideally, Tatum would help off Patrick Williams to cover the greater threat, but that goes against years of what he’s been drilled to do:

Overall, this play is emblematic of just how broken the Celtics defense is a week into the season. No one seems to be talking, and if they are talking, they aren’t executing.

12. The defensive breakdowns are jarring because from January onward last season, we got used to Boston being a juggernaut on that end of the floor. At times it seemed as if the Celtics had six defenders on the floor, because they moved as if connected by a string.

Again, this is all fixable. Eventually Robert Williams will return, and he’ll clean up some of mistakes with his rim protection. The communication will get better. A few of the new faces will figure things out, or they simply won’t play.

And, lest we forget, effort was an issue in the early months last season. It’s not to say that’s an acceptable excuse. Effort shouldn’t wane, but it’s clear Boston can bring more of it. And recent history tells us they will...eventually.

Joe Mazzulla and staff will have had three days to drill this stuff for the team before the next game. Let’s see if some of the problems are cleaned up by the time the Celtics play the Cavaliers on Friday. If not, expect the home fans to let them know that below-standard defense isn’t acceptable for a team with Finals hopes.

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