The Boston Celtics are a team that has always relied on defense. Even when their offense wasn't the greatest (like last year), they could always depend on their defense to win them games.
That has not been the case this season. While the Celtics' D has looked good at times, it has been an inconsistent mess for most of the way, with guys missing assignments, not rotating, closing out too late, etc.
It has been uncharacteristic of Doc Rivers' team, to say the least, and it is one of the primary culprits of Boston's underwhelming first two months.
Of course, reinforcements are on the way. Avery Bradley, one of the game's premier perimeter defenders, is scheduled to return on Jan. 2 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Bradley's mere presence on the floor will take a load of pressure off Rajon Rondo and will even make the frontcourt's job easier. Why? Because he will help contain dribble penetration, an area where the C's have struggled mightily thus far.
That being said, as gifted as Bradley is on that side of the floor, he alone will not solve all of the Celtics' issues defensively. He will certainly help, and in more ways than one. Due to the fact that he can prevent dribble penetration, opponents will have less opportunities to grab offensive rebounds off missed shots in the paint. It will also halt crisp movement of the ball.
However, it is silly to assume that Bradley is going to do this all by himself, and unless he grows eight inches, Boston will still have a problem protecting the rim.
Yes, the shots around the basket will likely decrease with Bradley on the floor, but they will still occur no matter what. With Kevin Garnett being the only shot-blocking threat on the C's, this will remain a problem. The Celtics are tied for 27th in the league in blocks, and that is simply awful.
Also, even when Bradley was off the floor during the 2011-12 campaign, Boston's defensive rotations were much better.
Take a look at this stretch of this game against the Nets last year. The C's used some incredible D to go on a 16-1 run.
Note the rotations, the help defense, and the contesting of shots at the rim. These are things we have not seen on a consistent basis so far this season, and they are things that have made the Celtics' defense so tough in years past.
There is the excuse that Boston's roster is full of new players who are still getting used to playing with one another. The excuse is valid, but we are getting to the point of the season now where we need to stop justifying things. There is still plenty of time left in the year for the C's to get things together, and based on recent history, it is reasonable to assume that will happen.
However, outside of some flashes of brilliance here and there, we just haven't seen the same intensity from them this time around.
That's what the Celtics need.
Intensity. Toughness. Grittiness.
That is what they rode to a remarkable Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals back in June. When Boston begins to exhibit these kinds of traits, the crisp, clean rotations and the hard-nosed, physical defense will come.
That's one key.
Another could be acquiring a big man before the trade deadline. DeMarcus Cousins has recently been named as a possibility. Other potential candidates include players like Marcin Gortat and Anderson Varejao.
Bradley, as mentioned earlier, is yet another piece. Keep in mind that, assuming Bradley retakes his starting job at some point, Boston will have the personnel to field the same starting lineup it had through Game 4 of the second round of the 2012 postseason. We have been seeing Brandon Bass come off the bench lately, but it will be interesting to see if Rivers re-inserts him into the starting lineup when Bradley returns.
Remember, it was the group of Garnett, Bass, Paul Pierce, Bradley and Rondo that went on that spectacular second-half run. Who is to say that group can't do it again in 2013?
Check out this graphic of that five-man unit (highlighted) last year.
That group was a ridiculous plus-82, demonstrating incredible defense. Examine the rest of the lineup combinations. That five-man unit was, by far, the C's' best.
We'll get a chance to see that lineup soon.