Charlie Rosen, in your opinion, which was the best defensive team in NBA history?
— Daniel Lee, Los Angeles, CA
This is an easy one: The 1965-66 Boston Celtics.
In an era when Wilt Chamberlain typified the league's emphasis on high-volume scorers — with Wilt, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson all averaging over 30 points per game that season — the Celtics won their eighth consecutive championship on the basis of their defense.
During the regular season, they allowed opponents to score only 107.8 ppg, which was 4.2 points lower than the league's next best team defense (St. Louis). Boston's points-against-average was also 7.7 ppg less than the 115.8 points that all of the nine ball clubs scored per game.
In the Eastern Division finals, the Celtics squared off against Chamberlain and his Philadelphia 76er teammates (who had actually finished one game ahead of Boston in the regular season). The 76ers had averaged 117.3 ppg during the 80-game season but were limited to 104.0 while losing the series in five games.
Of course, the backbone of the stingy Celtic defense was Bill Russell. Back then, blocked shots were not included in the official statistics, but in hindsight, it is universally agreed that Russell must have averaged at least 10 swats per game.
Two other starters were also defensive stalwarts — Tom "Satch" Sanders and K.C. Jones. In addition, John Havlicek, who was Boston's sixth-man, was another ace defender — as demonstrated by his eventually being named to five All-NBA Defensive squads when he became a starter. Moreover, even though Woody Sauldsberry was on his last legs, he was still a plus-defender and was the only NBA player who could routinely shut down Elgin Baylor.
What was particularly interesting about this squad was that they played superior defense even as they played a decidedly up-tempo offense, which proves that, contrary to current thinking, the latter doesn't necessarily prohibit the former.