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Too many things have been getting past Celtics

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 19, 2012
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CHICAGO - It has been an issue for years with the Celtics on defense. The inability to stop dribble penetration causes all types of havoc, even for the best interior defenses.

That was the focus of a two-hour practice yesterday at the University of Illinois-Chicago as the Celtics attempt to limit those easy baskets caused by missed assignments.

During Thursday’s loss to the Bulls, the Celtics were burned countless times by Carlos Boozer streaking to the basket for layups because his defender was helping out on the penetrating player.

It’s a domino effect.

While the player defending Boozer - sometimes Kevin Garnett or Chris Wilcox - appeared to commit the defensive lapse, the problem actually would begin about 20 feet from the basket, when Rajon Rondo allowed the opposing point guard (or Paul Pierce his counterpart) to dribble into the paint.

The interior defender has to make a choice: remain with his assigned man and allow the dribbler to drive unimpeded to the basket or help out, and risk that the dribbler will make the pass to his teammate near the basket. On most occasions, the Celtics’ big man takes on the penetrating player and on most occasions pays for it.

“That should never happen,’’ coach Doc Rivers said about Boozer’s layups. “It was created because [Luol] Deng beat us off the dribble. Our other big has to help, and now they flash [to the basket].

“If you start by taking care of the dribble penetration, that entire play can’t happen. And that’s where we’re getting killed at right now.’’

With the Celtics desperately needing victories and losing games lately because guys such as Jose Calderon, Rodney Stuckey, and Deng have found it easy to dive into the paint, they practiced an unexpectedly long time yesterday, with a couple of players, including Rondo, walking away dinged.

“We just worked on a lot of defensive stuff because the dribble penetration is just crushing us, so we just showed film of the last three games,’’ said Rivers, whose team faces the Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich., tonight.

“You don’t have to talk a lot. Guys have the ball square up, and then the guy’s driving. You see the big running over to help and it’s either a foul, it’s a layup, or it’s an offensive rebound.

“I don’t think it’s that hard to figure out. We just have to do a better job on it.’’

The fault lies with the guards and the big men. The guards aren’t stopping the dribble penetration or the big men aren’t talking on defense, such as calling out a pick and roll or whether the screen is even coming. The silence on defense is a primary reason why teams are scoring at ease down the stretches of critical games.

While the Celtics have an impressive streak of 27 games without allowing 100 points, they are allowing points in bunches, such as Thursday when the Bulls responded with a 12-0 run when the game was tied at 69 in the fourth quarter.

“It’s amazing the game Kevin didn’t play,’’ said Rivers. “You couldn’t hear anything. It’s as quiet of a game as we’ve played all year.

“Chicago was a little better, but we’ve got to talk.’’

To preserve his body, Garnett did not participate in full practice, but he did take jumpers toward the end of the workout and will play tonight.

Rivers has the difficult job of trying to instill basics that have been left behind or disregarded because of the lockout and limited contact practices.

Yesterday he focused more on the fundamentals and allowed his players to go full court longer than usual.

The Celtics have an important game tonight, the first of a difficult back-to-back that is followed by a 1,200-mile trip to play the Mavericks in Dallas tomorrow.

“Like I told them, there’s still no excuses,’’ Rivers said.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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