Two weeks ago, the Boston Celtics had what was initially described as a “player’s only” meeting before they faced the Orlando Magic. At the time, NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the meeting may not have been productive.
“It was emotional at times, but in the end, perhaps not a terribly productive meeting, maybe not even beneficial,” Wojnarowski said.
At the time of the meeting, the Celtics were on a three-game losing streak, having lost twice to the Washington Wizards, and surrendered a substantial lead to the Chicago Bulls. Yet, following their “unproductive” meeting, the Celtics went on to defeat the Orlando Magic 92-79.
That victory set the scene for what has come to be known as the Celtics growing identity.
Defensive Grit Has Become Boston’s Calling Card
Including their win over the Magic, Boston has now held five of their opponents under 100 points in their last seven games. Furthermore, the Celtics are 5-2 since their team meeting in Flordia, even recording an impressive win against the Miami Heat.
According to NBA Stats, in the seven games before facing the Magic, Boston ranked 25th in defensive rating, allowing 110.3 points per 100 possessions. The Celtics sit 1st in defensive rating in the following seven games, allowing just 97 points per 100 possessions.
What a turnaround for a team who were apparently amidst an early-season crisis. Furthermore, the Celtics have strung together these impressive defensive displays without Jaylen Brown for the most part, as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.
Yet, even when dealing with injuries, the Celtics have remained a consistent defensive unit, having modified their switching scheme, and are no longer susceptible to dribble hand-offs and the slip screens that were hurting them to begin the season.
“We’ve been building on it (the defense,) and I feel like that’s our identity, tough defensive team. We’re gonna make it hard on people, and I feel like that has to be our identity because it’s put us in position to win games night in and night out,” Horford told the media after the Celtics held the Cavaliers to 92 points in mid-November.
Robert Williams has also echoed Al Horford’s sentiments in recent weeks and has this to say after the Celtics dispatched the Toronto Raptors in what was essentially a revenge game.
“With the defensive setting, it just depends on personnel and who we’re playing; we may switch defense ten times a game, it just depends. I’m just glad we did do that, so our guys are getting used to playing each type of defense; it may not always be 15, it may not always be red, may not always be 14 and 13, so you got to pick up on it.”
Celtics Offense Needs to Catch Up to Their Defense
There’s an old English saying that God doesn’t give with both hands, meaning you’re highly unlikely to get everything you wish for. And in Boston’s case, that saying is ringing true right now.
Despite the teams’ number 1 ranked defensive since their team meeting, they’re languishing down in 23rd for offensive rating as they average just 104.6 points per 100 possessions, per NBA Stats. Much of the Celtics struggles can be tied to Brown missing court time and Jayson Tatum’s current cold stretch from the field.
However, in the second half of the Celtics victory over the Cavaliers on Monday, November 15th, the team began to show signs of life offensively. Gone were the one-on-one isolation plays and the post-ups for beyond 14-feet, and in their place were intelligent screening actions and high-speed transition plays.
Ime Udoka told the media following the Celtics victory that he was pleased with the team’s “intent” on offense during that second quarter, pointing towards an identity slowly being formed.
“I look at it, not the result, but the intent behind it. Sometimes we get caught playing in a crowd, but they’ve been pretty deliberate about trying to move the ball when they see a crowd. Tonight was about touching the paint. They’re a big-time shift team that comes and makes plays on the ball. We’ll kick it out and live with the shots we get, and it’s not always a result of the makes or misses. It’s just if you make the right play. I think guys are doing that for the most part, less contested shots and good ball movement, and that’s what got us over the hump in the second half.”
The Celtics will face the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, November 17th, as they look to continue their resurgence up the Eastern Conference standings on the back of some league-leading defense. But one thing is for sure, that team meeting in early November doesn’t seem to have been unproductive at all.