I wrote last week about the Boston Celtics coming back down to earth and I said that the up-and-down Celtics were closer to the real team than the squad that won 16 consecutive games earlier in the season. Perhaps I spoke too soon? Since dropping six of eleven games from December 8 to Christmas Day, Boston has reeled off six straight victories thanks largely to their recommitment to defense.
During the Celtics’ surprising 22-4 start, the defense was their calling card. Prior to the rough patch starting on December 8, Boston led the NBA in opponent points per game, allowing just over 95, close to three points less than the next closest team. During the 5-6 stretch, Boston seemed to lose focus on defense. The Celtics had dropped behind San Antonio in opponent scoring, and their opponent average had climbed above 98 points per game.
Here are some of their concerning performances during the 5-6 stretch:
@ San Antonio: 105 points allowed (Loss)
@ Chicago: 108 points allowed (Loss)
vs Denver: 118 points allowed (Win)
vs Utah: 107 points allowed (Loss)
@ Indiana: 111 points allowed (Win)
vs Washington: 111 points allowed (Loss)
All-in-all, Boston defense allowed over 98 points, their current opponent scoring average, in seven of the eleven games. On the contrary, they allowed over 98 points just once during their current six-game win streak. They have reclaimed the league lead in opponent scoring (97.6 points per game) with their refocused efforts on the defensive end. And it’s not just that the defense is stepping up, it’s doing so against top-tier competition. Here are Boston’s most impressive defensive efforts since Christmas.
vs Houston: 98 points allowed (Win)
vs Cleveland: 88 points allowed (Win)
vs Minnesota: 84 points allowed (Win)
Now, what has changed since Christmas Day that has resulted in Boston’s defense being so locked-in? For one, scheduling. In the 17 days from December 8 to December 25, Boston played 11 games, including three sets of back-to-backs. Of the 11 games, six were on the road. And it wasn’t a well-planned road trip either. The C’s alternated home and road games: three on the road, two at home, two on the road, one at home, one on the road, and two at home.
The NBA schedule has not been kind to the Boston Celtics this season. They currently lead the league in games played with 43, two more than the next closest team. According to Matt Moore of CBS Sports, Boston ranks third in the league in total miles traveled this season, and they got their fair share during the 17 day run in mid-December. I’m not going to give Boston a full pass – they still played poorly at times during this stretch. But I will cut them some slack for a brutal schedule.
Without Gordon Hayward, Boston’s defense is their key to success. Their offense is really nothing to write home about – they currently rank 21st in the NBA in scoring. This team will only go as far as their defense takes them, and lately it’s taken them to six straight wins.
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