Nobody can believe how far the Boston Celtics have come in such a short space of time.
Looking back on the final months of last season, and the opening months of this basketball calendar, the Celtics were a totally different team. Previously, Boston was heavily reliant on high pick-and-roll offense and would struggle to contain shifty guards on the defensive end.
Fast forward to the present day, and the Celtics are vastly improved on both ends of the floor, boasting a top-five offense since January 1, and the best defense in the league throughout the season.
Former NBA head coach Jim Boylen believes that the Celtics showed how their defensive scheme has propelled them to the upper echelons of the NBA with their commanding victory over the Utah Jazz.
“They’ve committed to the defensive end of the floor, since around Christmas. They have a predominantly switching scheme. They gave up eight made three’s by Utah, and Utah lives by the three. In their scheme, they put Robert Williams on a non-scorer, it’s a simple scheme, guard the best players, with your best players,” Boylen said.
Tweaking Robert Williams Defense Was a Turning Point
Robert Williams has always projected to be a significant defensive building block. The Lousiana native is blessed with otherworldly athleticism and can deter or alter shots at will. And of course, his ability to time his blocks to perfection also bodes well for the Celtics rim protection.
Williams has been ever-present in the rotation this year, meaning he was also part of the early-season struggles and collapses. But, since Udoka tweaked his defensive scheme to have Williams guarding the opposing team’s worst shooter, things have begun to change.
By placing Williams in a “free safety” role, the bouncy big man is able to help off his man and rotate over to contest shots at the rim. Or, the Celtics can ask their best rim protector to slide over and contest passing lanes or stifle drives. Such a small adjustment to where Williams is positioned seems to be paying huge dividends.
“What they’ve done, is they’ve taken people out of the pick-and-roll. And what happens with switching is it takes the creativity out of your offense. And now you’re playing five-on-five and you’re playing in the mud. I think it’s great how they can put Robert Williams on a wing, and remember, 80% of NBA basketball is pick-and-roll, and 40% of that is spread pick-and-roll.
So if you can figure out how to put your five on somebody who’s not involved in the action, you’re going to have success. And Boston is doing that. And you get better at that, people wonder why earlier they weren’t better, it takes a while, you gotta figure that out. They’ve got a new coach, a new system, they got some guys who haven’t played in that system. So, you gotta give them credit,” Boylen said on NBA Gametime.
Celtics Chasing Top Spot in The East
Currently, the Celtics are fourth in the Eastern Conference and just 1.5 games back from the first seed. The Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers are both tied with the Celtics, while the Miami Heat sits atop of the leaderboard.
Still, with eight games left to play, the Celtics have every opportunity to reach the mountain top and secure an easier route to the conference finals as a result. As things are currently constructed, the Celtics would face the Chicago Bulls in the opening round, but if they could dislodge the Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers would be the team’s most likely opponent.
Of course, when you get to the post-season, there aren’t usually any easy outs. However, the Cavaliers are playing with house money at this point, after most people considered them to be one of the lesser teams in the conference to begin the season.
The Celtics are back in action on Sunday, March 27, when they face off against Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves.