The Celtics arrived in the Orlando bubble with a statistical profile of a contender. Armed with a top-5 offense and top-5 defense over 65 games, they showed the ability on paper to hang with high-powered offenses in a shootout as well and scrap for wins on the defensive end on any night shots aren’t falling. Outside of Enes Kanter and Kemba Walker, Brad Stevens' entire rotation is predicated on having a group of versatile (mostly plus) defenders who are steady and have the trust of the coaching staff.
While the Celtics’ offense (6th out of 22 bubble teams) hasn’t had serious issues beyond some stretches of poor 3-point shooting since the NBA restart, the same can’t be said for the other end of the floor. Boston’s top-5 defense is nowhere to be found at Disney World in Week 1 of regular season play. That was an understandable situation during the first two games back against the dominant Bucks and a high-powered Blazers offense. Locking in against those squads is a challenge even when a defense is at its best with the mismatches they present for Boston.
The same can not be said for the Miami Heat, especially the one the Celtics saw on Tuesday night that was without Jimmy Butler (sore ankle). With Butler out of the equation, the Heat become a team full of 3-point shooters and not much else on the shot creation side outside of sixth man Goran Dragic. Still, Miami managed to roast the Celtics for 91 points over the first three quarters on Tuesday night on their way to a 112-106 win.
The result leaves the Celtics far closer to the No. 4 seed in the East (1.5 games) than the No. 2 seed after a lackluster 1-2 start in Orlando. More importantly, the Celtics’ defense looks like a shell of itself after three games. Boston is allowing 117.9 points per 100 possessions during the restart, a full 11 points higher than their average on the season and the third-worst team overall in Orlando.
To be fair to Boston, defense has been worse across the board in Orlando thus far with the average NBA team allowing two points more per 100 possessions so far over three games. That’s a far cry from the defensive slippage Boston has shown so far despite having a full collection of personnel together for the first time in months.
“Our defense has to improve from what it’s been in the first three games or so,” Brad Stevens said after the defeat.
So what exactly has gone wrong with the Celtics so far on the defensive end? Take a look at where the Celtics rank in the defensive four factors among the 22 bubble teams.
Opponent eFG 56.4% (21st)
Opponent FT rate .355 (17)
Opp turnover rate 13.3% (15)
Def rebounding rate 72.1% (14)
Those numbers are indicative of a team that’s playing subpar basketball in almost every facet of the game on defense. During the first 65 games of the regular season, the C’s defensive profile was one of a team that fouled too much, was average at rebounding but elite and forcing turnovers and defending shots. The mediocre rebounding and constant