BOSTON – Perimeter defense has been a consistent strength for the Boston Celtics for the past two seasons. The emergence of Jae Crowder at small forward has given Brad Stevens a versatile defender on the wing, while Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart have hounded guards with pressure on a nightly basis.
Boston rode that group to a fourth place finish in defensive rating last season, an impressive number given the team’s lack of rim protection in the middle. Big men like Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger were considered solid defenders in the team’s scheme, but their lack of size and inconsistencies on the offensive end prevented Stevens from relying on either one regularly down the stretch of games.
That scenario will no longer be an issue during the 2016-17 with the addition of All-Star big man Al Horford. Bradley couldn’t help but rave about the defensive prowess of the former Hawks center while speaking at a Celtics and Arbella home makeover event in Belmont earlier this week.
“I think he’ll help us out a lot,” Bradley explained. “Having a guy behind me—not to say the guys in the past weren’t good, because they were pretty dang good, especially Jared [Sullinger]. He really helped a lot as far as talking.
“But Al, having that leadership and having that experience, he’s been to the playoffs multiple years in a row. So he knows what it takes to be a great defender, and I know he talks well. I can tell for how disciplined their team is. I’m just happy to have him behind me, talking and helping me defend some of the best players in the NBA.”
Bradley believes the presence of Horford will enable the Celtics to jump up to one of the top defenses in the NBA.
“I feel like the sky’s the limit for us,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can be one or two in the NBA on the defensive end. If we all lock in and that’s our mindset going into every single game, I feel like it will not only help us win games but all our goals will come true being a top defense in the NBA.”
In order to reach the top of that mountain though, the veteran guard knows that the team must make other adjustments besides bringing a player like Horford in the fold.
“I think just being consistent, that’s the (biggest) thing,” Bradley said about what needs to happen for this year’s roster making the potential defensive leap. “I feel like whenever you’re in the top three, those are the most consistent teams every single game. And the reason why when Doc was here we were always one of the top defensive teams is because we were consistent every single game. So in order for us to be No. 1 or No. 2, the difference is those games – those back-to-backs, games like that, that’s when we have to really buckle down and lock in on the defensive end. And let that be the thing that gets our offense going.”
The Celtics will need to play to those expectations if they want to improve upon last season’s 48-win campaign. The pressure on the perimeter defenders will surely be reduced with Horford in the fold on a nightly basis. His ability and an increased sense of continuity in the closing five should help Boston reach new heights during the 2016-17 season.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.