Analysis: A closer look inside the Celtics’ new glaring issue on defense

(Adam Richins/Boston Sports Journal)

On paper, the Celtics still (somehow) have the fifth-best defense in the NBA. There’s no denying there are some serious underlying issues with this group in the wake of giving up the most points as a franchise since 1994 in a 140-115 loss to the Clippers.

Pick-and-roll defense has been a problem all year long, particularly against speedy guards, but a new issue has risen to the surface in recent weeks that has caused a defensive turndown: Giving up easy points in transition.

On the year, Boston has been a middle of the pack team in this department, allowing just 13.4 fastbreak points per game (14th in NBA). However, that average has skyrocketed since the All-Star Break as the C’s have faced a host of opponents that like to push the ball in transition. In the 10 games since February 21st, Boston has allowed 21.2 points per game in transition, which ranks 29th in the NBA, just ahead of the Grizzlies over that stretch. The 21.2 mark is five points worse than the PPG average for the worst transition defense in the NBA this year (Atlanta), showing just how egregious a dropoff that mark is over a 10-game stretch.

Defending the fast break has popped up as a problem early and often on the West Coast trip as well (21.8 fast break points allowed per game), showing that it’s not a problem that was solved by the magic of the team’s "plane ride" and coming together more as a team. Put simply, the Celtics aren’t getting back and matched up quickly enough and that’s producing plenty of easy points for opponents.

What exactly causes bad transition defense? Plenty of missed jump shots (Celtics are shooting 32.6 percent since the Break) is certainly a factor since long misses open the door for opportunities the other way on long rebounds. Making poor decisions on when to attack the offensive glass and just a simple failure to hustle and talk in transition are all reasons for the rise as well for Boston. Let's explore a few common causes on video last month to highlight the regular causes in action.