The defense rests. Or in this case, it hasn’t.
Earlier this season, I asked Warriors coach Don Nelson why he thought the Celtics had improved so dramatically on defense from one year to the next. He gave a two word answer: “Kevin Garnett.”
When pressed about schemes, cohesive play, and coaching techniques, Nelly balked. It was all because of KG, he said.
The stats from the last seven games don’t seem to back up the veteran coach.
For the season, the Celtics are holding opponents to 89 points per game on 42 percent shooting. In seven games without Garnett, opponents are shooting 43 percent against the Celtics, while scoring 94 points per game. Opponents are scoring more, to be sure, but consider there were games against the Magic, Mavericks, Cavs, and Spurs in that stretch. The Cavs were the only opponent to shoot 50 percent.
Coaches around the league have noticed the difference in this year's Celtics.
“They didn’t let us execute (down the stretch),” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said after his team was held to 87 points, albeit in a win, during a game in December.
After the Celtics ran away from Milwaukee for a 104-82 win earlier this season, Bucks coach Larry Krystowiak said his team had no answer for the Celtics in the second half.
“I think they just kind of overwhelmed us with that energy,” he said. “And we forced some shots, turned it over, and it ended up with easy baskets for them.”
Garnett is one of the league’s best defensive players, but the addition of reserves James Posey and Glen Davis have aided the defense. Much is made of the Big Three, but Boston’s other two starters, Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, are primarily known as defensive players. Tony Allen was on a Celtics team that last year allowed opponents to score 99 points per game and shoot 47 percent, but Allen’s specialty is also defense.
Boston’s effort was something ABC’s announcers picked up during Sunday’s broadcast of the Spurs game. With a lineup of Paul Pierce, Eddie House, Brian Scalabrine, Glen Davis, and James Posey on the floor for the Celtics, former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said that the Knicks can run out similar talent to the lineup the Celtics were employing, but that it was evident the Celtics tried so much harder than New York’s players. Van Gundy, who worked with current Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau in Houston, stressed that Boston’s success wasn’t all about talent.
The addition of the defensive-minded Thibodeau has helped tremendously. Thibodeau’s teams have finished in the Top 10 in team defense 14 times in his 17 seasons on the bench. Celtics players take notice.
“We stress it [defense] a lot, “said Kendrick Perkins. “We have a great defensive coach in [Thibodeau].”
The Celtics will get Garnett back sometime after the All-Star break, and their defense is likely to improve. But even without the future Hall-of-Famer, this Celtics team doesn’t resemble last year’s 24-win bunch. At least not on one end of the court.