BOSTON (CBS) – During the preseason, it was apparent the Boston Celtics had some work to do.
That is to be expected with eight new players in the mix. It’s understandable the Celtics would need some time to build chemistry on the court, molding themselves into title contenders during the regular season.
But with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo anchoring the Boston squad, it’s surprising where the lapses in play have been: on defense.
In Tuesday night’s 120-107 loss in Miami, it seemed as though the Celtics got burned each time the Heat took the ball down the floor. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade attacked the basket with ease, combining for 54 points on the evening (this with LeBron missing most of the fourth quarter with leg cramps). The Heat hit half of their 16 3-point attempts, most of which were wide open. Even the Miami bench torched the C’s, with Ray Allen scoring 19 points on just seven shots, and Rashard Lewis adding 10 points of his own.
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The Celtics allowed 62 points by the time the two teams went to the locker rooms for halftime, something they had only done seven times the last four seasons. Thanks to Miami’s offensive outpouring, the Celtics found themselves playing from behind from the second quarter on. While they made a run in the fourth, cutting the Miami lead to just four with 2:09 left to play, their chance to win was lost in the third quarter when Miami shot an unreal 68.4 percent from the floor, hitting 13 of their 19 shots.
“That’s not who we are,” Paul Pierce told reporters after the loss. “The way we defended tonight — we’re not going to be a team that’s going to give up 120 points. We gave up 30 points pretty much each and every quarter. We’ve got to establish our identity and who we are and what we’re going to be.”
“I really thought they took the fight to us most of the night,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “I thought they were the more physical team, I thought they were mentally tougher than us, and I thought when we made our runs, they kept their composure. When they made their runs I didn’t think we were good with our composure.”
“We’re going to be a defensive team,” added Pierce. “We’re going to stop teams from scoring, we’re going to keep them out of transition, and we’ve got to be a team that has to show resistance and be the enforcer out there. Tonight, we pretty much were on our heels all night.”
Kevin Garnett called the defense a “work in progress,” and the C’s captain agreed.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys trying to understand our philosophy defensively,” said Pierce. “We had a lot of breakdowns. I thought we just didn’t communicate well either. Our defense is all about communicating, talking. We didn’t do a good job talking to each other on rotations and things of that nature, but we’ll get it together.”
The Celtics won’t hang their heads too long on a loss to the defending champs, but they can certainly watch the game tape throughout the season to see their shortcomings against the defending champs. Garnett looked slow all night, possibly just shaking off some offseason rust. Jeff Green, who was arguably Boston’s best player in the preseason, reverted back to what he looked like during the 2010 playoffs against the Heat: a deer in headlights.
Yes, that is tough criticism for a player who missed all of last year after undergoing heart surgery, but the Celtics are counting on Green to key their bench’s success. Although no one can really succeed when tabbed with slowing down LeBron James, Boston will need much better efforts out of Green during their remaining three regular-season matchups with Miami, and any that may follow come summertime.
Tuesday night was just game one of 82, and the Celtics will no doubt use the regular season to smooth out the edges and morph themselves into the defensive-centered team they’ve been the last five years. Going against the defending champions probably didn’t help, and the team will look much better over their next five games, with a pair of meetings with both the Bucks and Wizards.
But if Tuesday night taught us anything, it’s the Celtics a long way to go in becoming the defensive powerhouse they strive for.
Follow Matthew Geagan on Twitter @MattyGWBZ