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Lack of focus and intensity plague Celtics defense in Game 1 loss to 76ers

Defense used to be the calling card of the Boston Celtics, but not anymore.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Remember when defense was the identity of the Boston Celtics, when on virtually every game day, one could expect the Celtics to play with physicality, focus, and communication on the defensive end?

Yeah, it’s tough for me to remember those days, too. Sigh.

Since Game 2 of their first round series, the Celtics have sported the worst defensive rating of all playoff teams at 122.8. Yes, you read that correctly. The team with Derrick White and Marcus Smart (supposedly the best backcourt defensive duo in the NBA), the Jays (supposedly the best two-way tandem in the NBA), and Robert Williams and Al Horford (supposedly an excellent, versatile defensive front court) has struggled against the Hawks and now the Embiid-less 76ers.

So, what’s going wrong? Well, for lack of a better explanation, the Celtics are just not focused enough on the defensive end. Overhelping, defensive breakdowns, and a lack of physicality at the point of attack have all been to blame for Boston’s horrid defensive numbers. And, if they want any hope of turning their play around, it’s going to start with a mindset shift and some adjustments to their defensive coverages. Let’s take a look at the film and see what Boston can improve upon moving forward.


Deciding whether to help or stay hugged up to your man is one of the most important decisions on the defensive side of the basketball. It involves weighing how much of a disadvantage your teammate is in with how good of a shooter your own man is. It’s difficult, and the Celtics did a really bad job of it in Game 1.

Here’s a perfect example of giving too much help. Jaylen is in fine position to defend Maxey and contest his layup attempt at the rim. White is also lurking, and I’m not exactly worried about PJ Tucker as a lob threat. But Jayson helps for no reason, leaving a great three-point shooter open for three. Bang.

I can’t even figure out Horford’s thought process on this play. What is he creeping into the lane for? Harden is going to take a tough contested layup against Tatum, but he instead kicks it out to another great three-point shooter for a wide open shot. Not sure what’s going on here – this play could go in the breakdown category, honestly.

Here, Brogdon is just way too far on the paint. Harden makes the simple pass, and then Maxey gets by Brogdon easily because Malcolm is closing out from way further than he should be. It results in a pivotal three point play. So rough.


Breakdowns occur in regular season games, but they shouldn’t really occur in the playoffs, especially ones as egregious as the Celtics have been making in their past five games.

Brown and Brogdon get confused by the simple three-man action and obviously don’t communicate well enough here. Instead of worrying about Melton staying hot, they’re worried about Paul Reed outside the three point line. *Shaking my head*.

Not much needs to be written here. I’ve watched every single minute of every playoff game, and although I’ve been falling asleep for some (more than I’m willing to admit) possessions, I haven’t seen as bad a defensive breakdown as this one. Just completely inexcusable, and probably could’ve been solved by honing in on communication and focus.

Lack of physicality

Physicality and size are supposed to be strengths of the Celtics. I mean, Marcus Smart is the starting point guard for god’s sake. But yesterday, the Celtics looked like Harden’s younger brother on many possessions.

Pretty jarring clip, because it’s rare to see Smart get bullied like that. If it were in the park, you would hear chants of “weight room,” “mouse in the house,” or anything alluding to the fact that Smart is too small and/or too weak. Yes, Marcus Smart. Too small and too weak. I don’t know whether it’s that he’s fallen off defensively or that there is a lack of intensity and focus, but wow.

I hate to be picking on Smart, but he just doesn’t look nearly as stout as he once was. Harden is supposed to be the perfect matchup for him, because Marcus can actually compete from a strength standpoint (at least, historically he has been able to). Smart gets pushed way too far into the paint and lets The Beard get right to his spot.

The truth is that the lack of physicality occurred on almost every play. It manifests in a low pickup point and a lack of physicality on point-of-attack defense, which was rampant during Game 1.

Tatum, after the game, summed it up well: “we just allow guys to be too comfortable at times… I think it’s just about picking up our pressure and trying to make people uncomfortable.”

Yes, Jayson. Make life uncomfortable for James Harden and the Sixers, and tell your teammates to do the same. It’s time to raise the level of intensity and act like you’re fighting for a championship, because the path has never been clearer.

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