Boston Celtics Defense Key to Late-Season Surge

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Boston Celtics Defense Key to Late-Season Surge
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's beautifully ugly and uncomfortable to watch, but impossible to resist.

It's Boston Celtics basketball, the way it was meant to be played.

It hasn't been there all season, and frankly looked at times like it was never coming back. In a span of three losing streaks, Boston dropped 13 games. The Celtics struggled to keep opponents off the glass and, in turn, off the scoreboard.

But something sparked a recent resurgence in coach Doc Rivers' squad, something that makes them an ominous force at the back end of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The Celtics have rattled off four straight victories, three of which came against teams with a winning record (Indiana Pacers, Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz). None of the wins were pretty (all decided by eight points or less), but Rivers hasn't built an impressive coaching resume on the beauty pageant circuit.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Rivers' 2008 NBA champion Celtics led the league with a 98.9 defensive rating.

Rather, Rivers has guided the Celtics to a .583 regular-season winning percentage during his nine seasons at the helm on the strength of a gritty, tenacious defense. The kind of defense that doesn't let opposing clubs shot 45.5 percent from the field like his Celtics did over the first two months of the season (via NBA.com).

Since the turn of the calendar, though, Rivers' fingerprints have been all over the team's performance. Boston has held opponents to just 41.9 percent field-goal shooting in 2013. Given the team's continued rebounding issues (minus-3.9 glass differential, via basketball-reference.com), it could ill-afford the open looks it had been affording opponents over the opening months.

And, as veteran NBA teams have been known to do, the Celtics have ramped up their defensive efforts as the season enters its final stretch. During this four-game mini-charge, the Celtics have held opponents to just 38.1 percent shooting from the field (via NBA.com). Teams have averaged just 93.8 points per game over that span, which includes an overtime win in Salt Lake City.

That suffocating defense took center stage on March 6 when the Celtics held the second-place Pacers scoreless over the game's final four minutes to escape Bankers Life Fieldhouse with an 83-81 win.

The Celtics scored the final 11 points in their comeback win over the Pacers.

Many doomsday predictions surrounded the Celtics when All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (knee) and rookie Jared Sullinger (back) were lost for the season in the span of a week. But Rivers' Celtics have never found success on the strength of their individuals, but rather by using a horde of healthy bodies to overwhelm their opposition.

These past four games have been no different. The athletic Avery Bradley, intense Kevin Garnett and crafty Paul Pierce have led the defensive charge on the starting five. The lanky (6'9") Jeff Green and bruising Chris Wilcox have carried that spirited play over to the reserves.

The Celtics might not win the championship. They might not even make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

But when they're defending like this, they're the team no one wants to face in the postseason.

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