The Boston Celtics have established themselves as one of the best teams in the NBA this season. After a rough start to the year, they finished as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference and tied for the sixth-best record in the league.
While their offense turned itself around (from January 1 to the end of the regular season, they had the second-best offensive rating at 117.9), Boston’s defense was the primary reason for their second-half surge. From the start of the new year through the end of the regular season, the Celtics’ defensive rating clocked in at 105.2.
Not only was this the best defensive rating in the league over that time span, but it was the best by far. In that time period, the difference between Boston’s defensive rating and the second-best mark (the Phoenix Suns at 108.7) was greater than the gap between the second-best and tenth-best team (the Orlando Magic at 110.9).
Boston ended the year with the best defensive rating on the season, too, as they added even more defensive help at the trade deadline in the forms of Derrick White and Daniel Theis. According to an anonymous Eastern Conference GM, this defensive mindset is crucial to earning minutes on the Celtics.
Defense Necessary in Celtics Rotation
Sources told Sean Deveney of Heavy.com that, to receive minutes in Udoka’s rotation, being a plus on the defensive side of the ball is a must. Regardless of what a player brings on offense, if they can’t defend, they won’t get playing time:
It is pretty clear that if Ime Udoka does not trust you on the defensive end, you are not getting onto the floor, even if you can shoot and score.
Udoka’s switch-everything defense requires everyone on the floor to be locked in and capable of guarding multiple positions. If the Celtics had a defensive liability on the floor, they wouldn’t be able to switch one through five fluidly.
Due to this defensive mindset, Brad Stevens has built the team to Udoka’s liking, with defensive stalwarts present up and down the roster.
Building Roster for Defense
In hindsight, Stevens’ plan to tailor the roster to be a defensive-minded squad was clear. He traded Kemba Walker, often seen as a liability on that side of the floor, for former Celtic Al Horford. The 35-year-old made the All-Defensive Team in 2018 and has been a crucial part of Boston’s defensive system this year.
Stevens also traded away multiple players who weren’t helpful on the defensive end. Tristan Thompson and Carsen Edwards were shipped out in the offseason, both of whom didn’t provide much on that side of the floor.
Finally, Stevens’ trade-deadline moves focused on giving Udoka more defensive firepower. He added Derrick White and Daniel Theis, who are both above-average defenders who can hold their own, and shipped out Enes Freedom, Dennis Schroder, and others.
While Boston’s roster is set as of now, with almost everyone under contract for next season, this mentality should be remembered as the Celtics fill out their roster this summer. Defense is clearly the priority, and it’s paid off so far.