Celtics Defense Returns in Rout of Raptors

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When the Boston Celtics are playing like they did last night against the Toronto Raptors, they can beat anybody.  After mixed results in their first few games, highlighted by inconsistent play and atrocious defense, the Celtics have won their last two games by a combined 56 points.  After humiliating the Brooklyn Nets and dropping 149 points on them, fans were urged to pump the brakes a bit because well, it was the Nets. 

Photo courtesy of nba.com

Last night was supposed to be the test. The Raptors were one of, if not the hottest team since the season restarted.  They were yet to lose and earned victories over the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers.  Boston meanwhile had beat Brooklyn and Portland, both of whom are under .500 and lost to two playoff-caliber teams in Miami and Milwaukee.  It was important for the Celtics to come out and make a statement last night.  Boy did they do that.

The Celtics' potential was on full display in a 22-point victory over the Raptors that wasn't even that close.  Boston led by as many as 40!  Yes, four zero, FOUR-TEE.  The offense was great.  After a slow start, they found their rhythm.  It wasn't just that they were making shots, they were making right plays.  Passing up good shots for great shots.  Attacking the basket and finding the open man.  In the third quarter, Boston put up 39 points against one of the top defensive teams in the league.  Toronto had no answer.

As good as their offense was, that was never a concern with this team.  The Celtics will only go as far as their defense takes them.  It doesn't matter if you're scoring 115 points, if you're giving up 120.  Boston's defense finally came to play last night, and when that happens, that's when they are dangerous. 

Toronto scored just 37 points in the first half, made only 13 shots and shot just under 32%.  Yes, they missed some open looks, but the Celtics were making them work hard.  Unlike games against Portland and Miami, the Celtics were out on the wing pressuring ball handlers.  They were getting up into the bodies of players and making things uncomfortable. 

When the threes weren't falling, Toronto tried throwing it inside to Pascal Siakam, and Jaylen Brown was having none of it.  Siakam took nine shots inside the paint last night and made just three.  Brown was with him every step of the way.  The kind of defense Boston played last night can solve a lot of problems.

Scoring droughts happen in the NBA; especially for teams like the Celtics who take a lot of jump shots.  You're bound to go through a stretch of the game where the shots aren't falling.  That's why your defense is so important.  When you're struggling to make baskets, playing good defense can prevent teams from going on prolonged scoring runs. 

In their first bubble game against the Bucks, the Celtics fell behind 17-2 to start the game.  Boston missed six of their first seven shots, and Milwaukee hit seven of their first eight.  Against Portland, the Celtics built a 24-point lead, only to watch it all disappear in the second half.  Against Miami, an inability to defend the three-point line put Boston in an early 16-point hole that they could never climb out of.  A few strong defensive possessions could have prevented all of these things from happening.

Boston' offense took awhile to heat up last night against Toronto. They scored just 21 points in the first quarter and made eight of 23 shots; six of which came around the basket, so the jumpers weren't falling.  Had they relaxed on defense, they could have been the ones facing an early double digit deficit.  Good defense will keep you in games.

Brad Stevens always says "we can't let our offense affect our defense".  Meaning if you're missing shots at one end, you can't let that impact how well you defend on the other.  That's how deficits balloon and games get out of hand. 

That's why defense is so important to Boston's success.  Not only can it keep them in games when the offense is struggling, but it can also lead to easy baskets through turnovers, blocked shots, long rebounds, etc, and get their offense back on track.  Normally, team defense can be energized by the crowd.  That luxury doesn't exist currently.  They have to find a way to bottle this defense up like Bugs Bunny did with "Michael's secret stuff" in Space Jam, and carry it with them the rest of the way.   


Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Celtics Defense Returns in Rout of Raptors
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