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Where have you gone, Boston Celtics?

May 10, 2009

In honor of late Dom DiMaggio (Red Sox), brother of the late Joe DiMaggio (Yanks), this post is entitled, “Where have you gone, Boston Celtics?”

We’ve been faced with two major challenges this season: being the defending champs and injuries. Everyone wants to beat the champs to prove their worth, and everyone enjoys hating us. Why can’t we, the basketball world, all just hate Kobe and the Lakers together? You know… I have 2 favorite teams: the Celtics and whoever is playing the Lakers. No?

2008 Defensive Player of the Year: KG.

2008 Defensive Player of the Year: KG.

But despite these challenges (mainly losing starter KG and reserve Powe), we finished with a 62-20 record… 3rd best in the association (only 4 wins less than last year). So basically, we had a great season despite losing arguably our most important player on the team for the last 2 months of the regular season and most likely for the entire post-season. How did we accomplish this?

Team Defense.

Coach Thibodeau is the architect behind the team’s defense… which is ironic for some who knew Coach T in his days at Salem State. Some of the regular refs that officiate my middle school basketball team (that I coach, not play on!) watched Coach T play at Salem State and laugh about how he used to ONLY shoot in his younger years, and never really cared for defense. Something clicked though, along the way… Coach T has been in the league for 17 years and has helped his teams finish in the top 10 in team defense 14 times. This year is no different: Boston was 3rd this year in holding other teams to only 93.4 pog, just 2 points shy of the Cavs top mark of 91.4 ppg. The Celts were tied for first by holding opponents to a league low 43.1 FG%. The Celts were 5th in the league to holding teams to a mere 35% from 3pt. Finally, Boston was ranked 6th according to ESPN’s Hollinger team defensive efficiency rating (which is a mathematical formula that incorporates about 10 different statistics/formulas) at 103.5, compared to the Cavs #1 ranked 91.4 efficiency rating.

D-Fence... D-Fence. (Coach T, Doc, Coach Hill)

D-Fence... D-Fence. (Coach T, Doc, Coach Hill)

Doc Rivers talks about the importance of being a defensive minded team, but it’s Coach Thibodeau that has built the foundation of defensive play in Boston. Doc and Danny hired Coach T last year to fill this void in Doc’s coaching skills, and it’s paid off (you know, with a championship!).

Coach T orchestrates a team defense that is built on strong perimeter defense, recognizing when the weak-side needs help, collapsing on penetration, and smooth rotations on screens/cuts. The Celts might not always be able to contain a team’s superstar (Lebron, Kobe, etc.), but to limit the production of other players. Coach T’s defensive schemes have players moving just as much on defense as they would on offense. Like offensive sets, the Celts have defensive sets. Positioning becomes crucial to executing Coach T’s defensive schemes. We, of course, have our moments of defensive breakdowns when we got stuck in bad switches, but these moments are kept to a minimum. The coaching staff sold the commitment to defense on this roster, and all of the players either buy into the system or don’t play in the system.

How good was our defense in 2008?  This good.

How good was our defense in 2008? This good.

This is the Boston Celtics team I love: the one built on defense. Don’t give me the crap that the defense fell apart once KG got hurt… Yes they lost their defensive floor general (the dude still earned 2nd team all-defense honors despite not playing in 1/3 of the season: respect), but that can’t be an excuse. The Celtics still arguably have the best defensive point guard (shafted in 2nd team all-defense) in the game in Rondo (Hollinger agrees). Ray Allen is constantly talked about how overlooked he is as a solid defenseman. Paul Pierce, despite the age and speed, can still be a force that causes team’s top scorers to work harder for their shots. Perk is slowly turning into a lock down low post defender (Perk and Rondo got invites to tryout for the team USA minicamp workout for potential roster spot on the ’10 World and ’12 Olympic teams).

No more excuses. The inconsistency of this team’s defensive disrupts any valiant effort of establishing a smooth offensive rhythm and allows streaky teams like Orlando to catch on. Only Game 2 has exposed the Magic for what they really are (not good) because our defense that game was ON. We looked like a defensive minded team that evening. We need to be more physical. We need to be smarter. We have to shut down the perimeter. We have to shut down Dwight. Make guys like Courtney Lee, Rafer, Pietrus, Gortat score… not Lewis, not Howard, not Hedo. Shut these guys down. I know that Coach T is good enough to craft the coaching strategy for the game, but the players on the court aren’t executing. Rondo, Ray, Perk, Baby, Pierce have been incredibly inconsistent. We need to execute.

If we don’t stay focused and determined and committed to playing 48 minutes of smart and gritty defense, this series will be over before we know it.

Where have you gone, Boston Celtics?

Endnote  •  Did everyone see the blown foul call in the Denver/Dallas game 3? Dallas had a foul to give with a few ticks on the clock, Wright fouled ‘Melo but it was never called, and ‘Melo nails a three to put Denver up by 1. Dirk misses a prayer with 1 second left to go, and Denver wins to take a 3-0 game. The NBA apologized for this error and said the refs indeed missed the foul call. Thanks, NBA: Dallas feels better now that you apologized. Does the NBA have the worst officiating out of every major sport? Yeah, I think these playoffs have demonstrated this freely and clearly.

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