Robb: The Celtics’ defense is a developing problem

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY -- With the entire crowd focused in on Gordon Hayward in his first appearance at Vivant Smart Home Arena since opting to sign with the Celtics last July, it was almost fitting that the Jazz coaching staff placed their attention on the 28-year-old forward immediately out of the gate.

Hayward has always been known as a solid defender before his ankle injury, but the Jazz made a point of targeting him on that end of the floor on Friday night, running him ragged as chased Joe Ingles around screens for most of the first quarter. Ingles got hot early, scoring seven of his career-high 27 points in the first quarter, setting the stage for what would eventually become one of the worst defensive performances by the Celtics in recent memory.

“That was something that they were doing,” Hayward said of the target on his back. “They had some success with it, so they kept at it. I felt at the end that I got some stops so that was something they were doing.”

While Hayward got taken off Ingles duty later in the evening, the conveyor belt of options that Brad Stevens threw at him were all made to look helpless at one point or another. Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye and Jaylen Brown couldn’t stick with the Australian, who carved up Boston to the tune of 27 points and 7 assists.

The damage didn’t stop with Ingles though. Six Utah players scored 14 points or more in the 123-115 Jazz win. Five of those players shot above 50 percent from the field, as the team hit a collective 55 percent of their shots. There was little resistance for the better part of four quarters in this one, something that is uncharacteristic of what was the top defense in the NBA through ten games. The Jazz killed the C's with their pick-and-roll play, timely passing, transition shooting and ability to get to the free throw line (30 attempts on the night)

So, as the Celtics' offense made positive steps, even without the presence of Kyrie Irving (out for personal reasons), the steps backward on the defensive end have been just as glaring on the defensive end during this 1-3 road trip. Boston has allowed over 108 points per 100 possessions over the past four games, a number that would put them at 20th overall among all NBA teams and eight points below their season average.

That type of sustained falloff makes it worth asking a question: Was the C’s early success on defense this year unsustainable?