By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics know if they want to compete for a title this season, they’re going to have to be a great defensive team.
Three preseason games into their 2018-19 quest for a title, they are not a great defensive team. They aren’t even a good or decent defensive team, and head coach Brad Stevens let them know following a lackluster 102-95 preseason loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
The Celtics looked like a bunch of matadors for the third straight game, allowing way too many easy layups for anyone’s liking. They’ve now surrendered 106 points per game this preseason, with the Hornets and Cavs hitting 41 percent of their shots from the floor and 35 percent from downtown. In all three games, Boston’s opposition was also gifted plenty of freebies from the Celtics defense, taking an average of 38 free throws per game. Overall, the Celtics have committed 92 personal fouls.
It’s been brutal on the defensive end, and Stevens didn’t mince words after Tuesday night’s defeat.
“I thought we looked like a sieve defensively,” he said in that Mad Brad tone. “I couldn’t be more unimpressed after our first three exhibition games.”
Stevens sounded like a father disappointed with their kid for lollygagging through their homework. Boston’s struggles on the defensive end have Stevens wondering if it’s his system, or if his players just aren’t putting in the necessary effort.
“You always start with are you doing it well enough? Are you executing techniques? Are we doing it hard enough? All of that,” he said. “Then you move to, do we need to change it? Which very well could be change either personnel or system.”
Stevens rattled off a number of issues that he’s seen, and many of them centered around the wide open shots (layups, jumpers, threes — the whole kit and caboodle) that the Celtics are giving opponents.
“I mean, we got a lot of work to do, it’s pretty clear,” he said.
Stevens is not alone in his concern, either.
“We haven’t played with that fight. And I think that’s what Brad sees,” said forward Jaylen Brown. “We’ll get there, but it’s taking time. It’s taking longer than we expected to figure things out.”
You can point to the fact that it’s only the preseason, and the Celtics will figure it out by the time the regular season tips off. But they were a much better defensive team during last year’s exhibition slate, and they never let up more than 102 points. Maybe they are just holding back a little bit, knowing that the rigors of an 82-game schedule await, but it’s just been too darn easy for opposing players to get to the basket. The two teams they’ve seen have looked far too comfortable on offense, especially the LeBron James-less Cavaliers on Tuesday.
At least the Celtics have time to figure things out. After visiting the Cavaliers for their preseason finale Saturday night, they’ll have nine days before opening the season against the Philadelphia 76ers. That week-plus will give Stevens ample opportunity to hit his basketball lab and find the magic elixir for these defensive woes, and his players a solid amount of practice time to gel on the floor.
“We can tune up things and we can hone in on things that Brad and the coaching staff emphasize to us,” said defensive bulldog Marcus Smart. “We’re not worried. We’re obviously disappointed, but at the same time, this is why we have preseason, to get back in the groove and get chemistry with the guys and get back to doing what we do.”
There’s a good chance that when the Celtics hit the floor Oct. 16 against the 76ers, they’ll be a much better — and much more focused — defensive team than the one we’ve seen this preseason. If not, you better believe they’ll get a pretty big scolding from Dad Stevens.