Boston Celtics: The key issue that is holding this team back

Boston Celtics forward Jabari Parker (20) Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics forward Jabari Parker (20) Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics have kicked off the 2021-22 season in interesting fashion to say the least. They suffered a tough overtime loss to the New York Knicks in the season opener before getting demolished by an undermanned Toronto Raptors team in their second game. They responded by putting away the Houston Rockets pretty easily, and clawing out a hard fought victory over the Charlotte Hornets tonight.

Despite the big win over the Hornets, it still feels like the first four games have left something to be desired for this team. A team led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should be winning more games than they are losing, and there’s no reason they should be getting 30-pieced by a Raptors team that didn’t even have their star player in Pascal Siakam playing.

Overall, the team looks better than they did last season. The new veteran pieces, such as Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson, have come in and been impact performers right off the bat. With Tatum and Brown leading the way, they have been able to score early and often throughout their games, which wasn’t always the case last season.

Defensively, things haven’t been as smooth. Ime Udoka has yet to figure out a consistent rotation throughout the first four games, and the defense has sufferred as a result. The key issue that has arisen not just defensively, but on both sides of the ball, has been the team’s lack of perimeter defense. Until this key piece of the defensive gameplan gets sorted out, this team is going to continue to be stuck in the mud.

The Boston Celtics need to sort out their perimeter defense

A key factor in many of the moves made this offseason was improving the defense. Bringing in a guy like Richardson and signing Marcus Smart to an extension were two moves that signaled as much. On paper, it looked like this team’s defense should have improved right out of the gate. Instead, it has stayed relatively in line with what we saw last year, which isn’t a good thing.

Through four games, the Boston Celtics rank 18th in the NBA in terms of defensive rating, which is way too low considering the players they have on their roster. If you are going to blow a bunch of money on extending Smart, you better make sure your defense is in check. Otherwise, you get performances like tonight from him (7 PTS on 3/12 shooting) where he is virtually invisible.

The big reason Boston’s defensive rating is so low is because they are playing virtually no defense on the perimeter. The C’s again rank 18th in the league in opponent’s three point shooting percentage, with opponents hitting the three ball against them at a 36.6 percent clip. That’s too frequent for a team with as many solid perimeter defenders as the Celtics.

Take tonight’s game against the Hornets for example. The Celtics pretty much let Charlotte shoot uncontested threes all night long. Charlotte came out on fire from three, and while they eventually cooled off, they still finished at just over 43 percent on the night. For a team with as much offensive depth as the Hornets, you can’t afford to leave shooters open as much as they did tonight.

Whether it be a lack of communication or effort, the end result isn’t pretty. Shooters have been getting wide open threes at will against Boston throughout the first four games of the season. It’s led to some ugly defensive sets for the Boston Celtics so far, and has left fans wondering how on earth so many shooters are getting these wide open looks.

In today’s day and age of basketball, shooting the three is more important than ever. Just as teams are developing their offensive gameplans around making more threes, defensive gameplans are being revolved around stopping those threes from being made. Unfortunately for Udoka and the C’s, it seems like that part of the gameplan has gone missing,

Boston seems intent on playing a switch-heavy defensive scheme, but it becomes completely ineffective if the communication is off or players don’t make the right switch. There have been countless plays where a simple screen causes mass confusion for the C’s, resulting in a wide open three for someone else. Fighting through screens to contest these threes has to become a focal point of the defensive gameplan.

Next. Top 3 performances from Celtics season opener. dark

The rotations defensively have also been a sluggish to this point. Teams are passing right around Boston’s perimeter defense, as the team seems to be a step slow to figure out who they are guarding at times. It’s important that everyone has a man to guard at all times, but there have been multiple instances where someone is left in no-man’s land while their opponent is taking an uncontested three.

The Boston Celtics have picked up a couple of solid victories after starting off the season 0-2, but to make the next jump from a middle of the pack team to true title contender, their defensive efforts at the perimeter are going to have to improve. It is just four games into the season, but the Celtics need to do a better job of slowing down their opponents if they want to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.