Since early January, the Boston Celtics have been the best defensive team in the NBA.
After a slow start to the season, Ime Udoka’s defensive gameplan began to pay dividends, and buoyed by their stern defense; the Celtics began to climb the Eastern Conference rankings. Following a four-game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics find themselves in the second round of the playoffs, tied at a game apiece against the Milwaukee Bucks.
While the Celtics failed to limit Giannis Antetokounmpo and co. in their May 1 matchup, the team bounced back with a stellar defensive display in their second game of the series on May 3, leading multiple media members and analysts to praise the way Boston conducts their business on the defensive side of the floor.
Speaking on a recent episode of ESPN’S Get Up, former NBA sharpshooter JJ Reddick was full of praise for the Celtics and their current roster construction.
“We saw this a ton in the Brooklyn series. Most teams have one or two great individual defenders, and most teams will gameplan for a guy like Giannis or gameplan for a guy like Kevin Durant. What makes the Celtics unique is that you’re game planning, you’re showing a crowd, but you have four or five great individual defenders on the floor at all times,” Reddick said when asked about the Celtics’ current skillset on the defensive end.
Even Without Marcus Smart, Celtics’ Defense Stands Tough
When news broke that the Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, would be out for the Celtics’ game two contest against the Bucks, most people assumed Boston would struggle to contain the reigning champions.
However, Udoka and his coaching staff came into the contest with a game plan and made adjustments from what we saw on the opening night of the series. Al Horford and Grant Williams were both tasked with guarding Giannis in a one-on-one situation, with the remainder of Boston’s defense staying tight on perimeter shooters – which was a far cry from the double-team happy approach of game one.
The results spoke for themselves, as the Bucks were limited to just 18 attempts from deep throughout the game, making just three of them. Without Giannis drawing multiple defenders, Milwaukee’s game plan quickly went out of the window, which led to them playing off the back foot for most of the game.
“I view it as guarding him on an island where it’s just you and him. You have to do your job. For us, that’s how we viewed it for this game to see how it would go. He tried being a lot more aggressive in the second half, getting downhill and creating for himself, but it’s just one of those things that you have to hunker down and trust in the work you’ve done and do your best to contain one of the best players in the world,” Grant Williams explained after his excellent defensive performance.
Jaylen Brown Leads the Way on Offense
It’s fair to say that no player struggled more than Jaylen Brown in the opening game against Milwaukee, finishing the contest with 12 points on 30.8% shooting from the field and with seven turnovers to his name.
However, in-game two, Brown electrically started the game and quickly positioned himself as the best scorer on the floor for either team. The Atlanta native finished the contest with 30 points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a block while converting 61.1% of his shots, including going six-for-ten from the perimeter.
“If I was a betting man, I would bet that JB was going to have a great game, and he set the tone. That was big for us,” Jayson Tatum told the media following Brown’s exceptional performance.
If the Celtics are to have a chance of progressing to the Eastern Conference finals or beyond, then the version of Brown that we all saw on May 3 is the version the Celtics will need to see consistently. Because when both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are operating near their peak, they’re one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA and will be difficult to contain on both sides of the floor.
The pressure is now on the Bucks as the series shifts to Milwaukee for the next two games, and both teams begin to fight for dominance in what could quickly become a seven-game series between two titans of the Eastern Conference.