Celtics’ dominant defense is back, and should be around for good

(Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

For a while there, it was tough to tell whether the Celtics’ defensive struggles in December should be attributed to a hectic schedule or simply regression. Over the first 20 games of the year, the Celtics were far and away the best defensive team in the NBA. They rode that scrappy play and timely playmaking in the fourth quarter to a 16-game winning streak in November that propelled them to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Reality hit in December, however. Injuries piled up, games came every other day and the defense saw some significant slippage over that stretch. Statistically, the Celtics were still on top of the NBA on defense for the season, but they were playing like a middle-of-the-road defense at best in December. Rebounding was a problem again. The Celtics were fouling too much and not forcing many turnovers. They were forced to win games with their offense over this period, which brought forth the question: Was the team’s early defensive dominance a flash in the pan? Or could those struggles be attributed to an undermanned squad simply being overworked with 16 games over 31 days?