In what ended up being a grueling contest, the Boston Celtics fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, losing 132-123. It was a back-and-forth contest, but in overtime, the Darius Garland-less Cavaliers earned the win. The primary theme to come out of the loss? A substantially worsening Celtics defense.
Boston’s defense has been poor for the entirety of the season, but through the first three games, their high-powered offense overshadowed it, leading the Celtics to victories. However, against the Chicago Bulls and Cavaliers, their struggles caught up to them.
Head coach Joe Mazzulla said that the defensive problems aren’t necessarily a trend, but more of an issue, stating that the Celtics just need to be more consistent on that side of the ball.
“I think we just have to execute. I don’t know if it’s a trend or an issue. I thought — we were winning the game. And so, we had a chance to win the game, we didn’t close out certain possessions. So, I don’t know if it’s as much of an issue as it is just being more consistent on both ends of the floor and not relaxing. And just understanding, we have to earn every win. So, I think that’s what the focus is.”
Even without Garland healthy, Cleveland was led by their backcourt. Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert (who is officially a certified Celtics killer) dropped 41 points apiece. They combined to shoot a blistering-hot 27-of-47 (57.4%) from the field.
As a team, the Cavaliers shot 51.1% from the floor and 16-of-35 from three-point range, torching the Celtics from all over the court. Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen also pitched in with 19 and 12 points, respectively.
But despite their struggles, Jaylen Brown sided with Mazzulla in his assessment of the situation. He said that they aren’t worried but have to re-focus moving forward.
“It’s on us. We gotta come out, and those are all controllable things. So, we’re not concerned. I think that we’ve done it before and we can do it again. It’s just re-locking in, re-focusing, and emphasizing on things that we should be prioritizing right now.”
"We're not concerned"— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) October 29, 2022
Jaylen Brown on the Celtics defensive issues pic.twitter.com/PKhxlx3XYC
Last season, the Celtics finished with the best defensive rating in the NBA (106.2) and allowed an NBA-best 104.5 points per game. So far this year, those numbers have ballooned to a 117.9 defensive rating (26th) and giving up 118.6 points per contest (23rd).
And in addition to their broad defensive woes, they’ve struggled to keep up on the glass. They currently rank 29th in defensive rebounds this season (30.2). Brown said that giving up some of those second-chance opportunities hurt them against Cleveland.
“Right now, like you said, some of those offensive rebounds, some of them were weird bounces, and some of them were not. We gotta be first to the glass and get the ball. We got some different lineups out there, but we can’t let that be an excuse. We gotta not let teams get second-chance opportunities, and we let them get a lot of second-chance opportunities, especially late in the game.”
Cleveland snagged nine offensive rebounds to Boston’s five in the loss, totaling 14 second-chance points to the Celtics’ nine. While those numbers may not seem monumental, the boards occurred at the most inopportune times. Four of the Cavaliers’ nine offensive boards came in the fourth quarter alone, as did seven of their second-chance points.
“We know the level of defense that we can play as a unit. Then it’s just about finding ourselves and getting back to that place,” Tatum said.
The Celtics’ elite offense has carried them to a 3-2 record, while their defensive woes have let them down time and time again. Yet, just like Mazzulla and Brown, Jayson Tatum is confident in the team’s ability to turn things around.