Celtics Watch Tape, Get Better

March 22, 2002

No one claimed miracle-worker status after the Celtics' defense showed improvement against the Cavaliers Wednesday night.

Coach Jim O'Brien downplayed the significance of a practice Tuesday that was dedicated to defense. When it was suggested it must have been one heck of a workout, O'Brien said, "Well, it wasn't, frankly." Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, Kenny Anderson, Eric Williams, and Tony Delk sat out to rest. So, the bulk of the defensive instruction came via video.

   O'Brien and his coaching staff prepared a half-hour tape of the poor defense the Celtics played Monday night against the Trail Blazers. The coaches showed where the defense fell apart, how each time down the court one player would miss his assignment. Prior to the game against the Cavaliers, the coaches reinforced the positive, reminding the players how hard they worked to become one of the top defensive teams in the league. "Let's get it back," said O'Brien.

That was it. No ranting or raving. No ultimatums. No Pitino-esque sounding of alarms. The defensive "slippage" that started to surface as the Celtics piled on the points during a season-high seven-game winning streak was a big deal. It just wasn't a big enough problem to cause panic. When it comes to defense, O'Brien always goes back to the fundamentals. Guarding against down screens, picks and rolls. Call it a late-season refresher course.

Obviously satisfied the Celtics' defense was back on the right track, O'Brien did not hold practice yesterday. Boston locked down Cleveland in the second half Wednesday, turning a close game into a blowout by holding the Cavaliers to 30.8 percent (12 of 39) shooting over the final two quarters. The Celtics also established themselves on the glass in the second half, finishing with a 45-44 rebounding advantage after they had lagged behind at the break. Pierce and Anderson were strong presences on the defensive glass, with each grabbing five rebounds in the second half.

"[On tape], we saw minor mistakes that we made," said Walker. "We didn't make rotations. Guys weren't in the right slot. There were things that we had been really consistent doing that we had to get back to doing. At shootaround [Wednesday morning] and at practice [Tuesday], we had a lot of defensive drills. We got back to training camp basics. They were the kind of drills where you say to yourself, 'Man, we're doing this 70 games into the season?' But it kind of refreshes your memory and gets the basics back in order. I think we got a little complacent during our winning streak."

Complacent would be one way of looking at it. It's hard to talk about defensive shortcomings when your team keeps rolling. The Celtics scored in bunches early in their winning streak and it's easy to relax on defense when a team learns it can post 130 points one night and come back with a 117-point performance against what will be Eastern Conference playoff teams. A couple of losses quickly brought the Celtics back to their defensive senses.

"It gets me mad when I'm not out there playing to my potential on defense because I know what type of defender I can be," said Pierce. "We know what type of team defense we can play."

The Celtics also know there's a difference between playing defense against the Cavaliers and doing so against the 76ers, who make their final regular-season visit to the FleetCenter tonight. In the teams' fourth meeting, Boston has a chance to even the season series. But more significantly, the Celtics are looking for some sort of psychological advantage. If the playoffs were to start today, Boston would face Philadelphia in the first round.

"They are a hell of a basketball team and they're probably a little angry because they just lost to Miami [Wednesday] and we beat them last time down in Philadelphia," said O'Brien. "[Allen] Iverson has had some dramatically great games against us. Make no mistake about it. We load up on Iverson. We try to put as many people between him and the basket [as we can] and make him take challenged shots."

So the Celtics will be thinking defense first tonight and hoping their game against the 76ers can lead to a half-hour highlight video.

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