Celtics' Defense Suffering Slippage
March 20, 2002
WALTHAM - The message has been clear for two weeks or so. The problem is on the receiving end.
The Celtics have shown what coach Jim O'Brien calls "slippage" on defense, and he wants it to end. Assistant coach/defensive coordinator Dick Harter said yesterday he saw the same thing.
"It's late in the season, almost three-fourths gone, and it's kind of like a marathon for a lot of teams in that they hit a wall at this point," said Harter after an eight-man workout at HealthPoint. "What's made it hard for us is that we've been able to score so easily that we've kind of lost that intensity on defense.
"But," he went on, "we had better get it back. I think we will. But we had better if we want to do anything."
Indeed. O'Brien said he firmly believed the Celtics would have won Monday night's game against Portland "if we had played the kind of defense we had been playing three weeks ago."
Asked why that was not happening, the coach said, simply, "We're not getting the job done."
Toward that end, he had his players watch tape for about 30 minutes and explained the need to have everyone working in unison "to make sure there is no deviation."
Today is the four-week anniversary of the trade that brought Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers to town. Since that deal, the Celtics are 7-6, with segments of four losses, seven victories, and two losses. It takes time to work one new player into the mix. It takes more time to integrate two, particularly when their minutes are coming at the expense of players who were playing well before the trade.
For much of the season, the Celtics, statistically speaking, have been a vastly improved team and among the top seven or eight in three key defensive areas: points allowed, defensive field goal percentage, and defensive 3-point percentage. They are now 13th in points allowed (95.2) but still a decent seventh in defensive field goal percentage (43.1 percent) and third in defensive 3-point percentage (33.9 percent). That latter stat could be pertinent tonight, for the Cavaliers are the NBA's second-most accurate 3-point shooting team, although only seven teams take fewer threes than their 12-and-change a game.
Over the last seven games, the Celtics have gone 5-2 while allowing opponents to shoot 46.1 percent from the field. But in those seven games, the Celtics have shot 44 percent, above their league-low average of 42.2 percent, and they have averaged 102 points a game. They tend to win when they score 100 points (26-3).
Harter said the team has been so consumed and successful with its offense that it has slacked off at the other end. While that is understandable, he said, it needs to be rectified.
"We've been so good at scoring," he said, "that I think we've lost a little of that sense of urgency. We can't afford to get into shooting matches. We've got to get back to what got us here."
. . .
O'Brien held Antoine Walker, Paul Pierce, Kenny Anderson, and Eric Williams out of practice to get some rest. Delk also sat out with a slight Achilles' problem. Everyone should be fine for tonight's game. While O'Brien acknowledged the benefits of film work, he said there was no substitute for practice. "It's three times more valuable to be on the court," he said . . . Bad Luck Dept.? Pierce was goofing around on a pair of crutches after practice . . . The Celtics will be going for their first season sweep of Cleveland since 1984-85, when they went 6-0 against the George Karl-coached Cavaliers. The Celtics also defeated Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs that season . . . Since lighting up the Pistons for 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting in 23 minutes, Walter McCarty has gone 0 for 9 over 34 minutes in the last six games, with one DNP . . . Walker has made 18 of his last 20 free throws and 26 of 30. But he went 0 for 0 from the line against Portland, the eighth time this season he has not attempted a freebie. The Celtics are 2-6 in those games. Pierce, meanwhile, went 12 for 13 from the line against the Blazers, which is usually a good sign for Boston. The Celtics are 15-5 when Pierce has 10 or more free throw attempts . . . The Cavs played (and won) last night in New Jersey, but O'Brien found little comfort there. "They're 4-2 in their last six back-to-backs," O'Brien said, referring to the second game of the two. The latest was a win on St. Patrick's Day in Cleveland against the Knicks after having lost to New York the day before in Madison Square Garden.
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