Debunking NBA Myths: The Boston Celtics Aren't a Great Defensive Team
I keep hearing how great the Celtics defense is. I have been hearing it all season. Just like I keep hearing how great of a defender Garnett is, and how Paul Pierce shut Kobe down in the Finals.
But are the Celtics really a great defensive team?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't Ray Allen and Paul Pierce considered great offensive players before last season? Are we to believe that Garnett is such an incredible defender that he made these guys into All-World defensive players? Or that Doc Rivers turned them into great defensive players?
If Garnett was so incredible defensively, then why did he need to leave Minnesota? Why did Dirk Nowitzki torch Garnett repeatedly in the playoffs, and sweep him in a playoff series? If KG is so great defensively, then why did Pau dominate him one-on-one many possessions, forcing Doc Rivers to have other players defend Pau throughout the Finals?
You take three players that were known as great offensive players in the past, put them together, and all of a sudden, voila! They are the best defensive team in NBA history.
Something doesn't add up here.
To see what is really happening here, let's go back in time—to the playoffs before these, when the Mavericks faced the Golden State Warriors in a series that is now called "The Debacle" by Mavs fans.
The Mavericks won 67 games in the regular season, and were one of the higher ranked defensive teams in the league. The Warriors were a scrappy offensive team, that just made the playoffs due to a midseason trade and had one of the worst defenses in the league—if not the worst.
Yet that Warriors team knocked off the Mavs in the first round of the playoffs, despite the Mavs' home-court advantage and superior defense.
How could the Warriors, who were one of the supposed worst defensive teams, and one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, beat such a solid defensive team? Especially when defense wins in the playoffs? How could offense-first coach Don Nelson so thoroughly beat down defensive genius Avery Johnson? Maybe numbers don't really tell the story.
Let's look at the Warriors. The Warriors are considered one of the best offensive teams in the league, simply because they put up a lot of points per game.
But does that mean the Warriors are really a great offensive team just because they score a lot of points? Doesn't scoring a lot of points per game just mean you play at a high tempo? Couldn't that work the same for a defensive team, too?
Couldn't you have a team that played a slow pace look like a better defensive team just because they play a more methodical style?
But what if you had some great offensive players on that slow tempo team—some tremendously efficient offensive players. But you still played a slow, methodical style. Couldn't you be a great offensive team even though you don't score a ton of points?
So my theory is that the Celtics play that slowdown pace. They have three excellent offensive players in Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, who complement each other very well. They are a lot like Duncan, Manu and Parker—only better versions of Parker and Ginobli, really.
But how can being a great offensive team make you look like a great defensive team? The same way the Golden State Warriors, who played poor defense, could beat the Mavs.
Great offense is a form of defense. When you have a great offense it puts so much pressure on the opposing team to score that your great offense becomes defense—especially when the opposing team is always taking the ball out of the net rather than rebounding and running back on your defense.
If you look back in history there are many teams like this. Look at Shaq—he has been known to be a huge defensive liability, because he never comes out to the three-point line to defend players. So opposing teams would get wide open three after wide open three.
How could the Championship Lakers be one of the best defensive teams if Shaq was so terrible on defense? Because, as I see it, Shaq was so dominant on offense, he was scoring at will in the paint while opponents were forced to shoot jumpers. That put too much pressure on the opposing offense.
Shaq's Lakers teams had a wealth of offensive players—just like this Celtics team. And interestingly, if you look at the Spurs and Celtics this season, their field-goal percentage was nearly identical—and their points per game was close, too.
If the Spurs had home court advantage in their series with the Lakers, things might have gone the same way for the Spurs that they did for the Celtics.
Maybe having a super efficient offense is the key to having a great defense. Maybe Tim Duncan's great defensive reputation is really more about his offense than his defense.
After the Celtics' experiment in this bizarre season, that's how I will always see it.
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