Excepting a certain substitute guard’s outburst that had me pledging to name my first-born child “Leandro,” the coolest part of Game 1 to me was Paul Pierce being mic’d up on TNT. Once, he told Rajon Rondo to adapt because the Heat were all loaded up on one side. Another time, he told Rondo it was time to start playing. But the most telling moment might have been shared between Pierce and Doc Rivers. They spoke to each other on the sideline about defensive communication; Pierce followed their brief conversation by making Pac-Man actions with his hands, imploring Jeff Green to talk.
The Celtics surrendered 120 points in Game 1 of 82, tying their worst defensive output of last season (when they lost 120-95 to the Sacramento Kings — Marcus Thornton scored 36 points that game, in case you were wondering). Communication wasn’t Boston’s only missing ingredient, but, according to the Celtics, it was an important one. (Boston Herald)
“We’ve got to do a better job at talking to each other,” Paul Pierce said. “Transition defense is No. 1, matching up with our guys. I think that’s where it starts.
“Once we shoot the ball, whether we make or miss, we’ve got to make sure we get back and match up with our guy and talk to each other a lot better. You know, that’s something that we emphasized here this morning. We’ve got to have better communication.”
The tendency, I believe, is to think of chemistry as being mostly confined to offense. It’s easier to attribute good offensive play to skill and teamwork, while defense is often explained as, “Ooo, they’re really long and athletic, and they play really, really hard.” That perception can often be very wrong.
Jordan made a good point yesterday about how the Celtics and Heat succeed defensively for very different reasons. Unlike the Heat (who also demonstrate sound principles, so don’t get me wrong), the Celtics don’t stop opponents with overwhelming athleticism. They thrive defensively because of positioning and schemes. They thrive because when Rondo gambles and gets beat, Kevin Garnett slips over to help him, Brandon Bass drops to the basket to cover for Garnett, and Paul Pierce re-positions himself so he can play free safety if he needs to. The saying goes that the best defenses operate on a string, every player shifting as his teammates do in an effort to help. Cohesion and chemistry is just as important defensively, maybe even more so. And the Celtics are still working to find themselves.
“To me, it’s more the buy-in and the trust,” he said, “then the other stuff is easy. But when you have this many new guys, the trust factor is just not there yet. And if you don’t trust it, you won’t talk it. So we have to get there. We will, but we’re not there.
“And I thought we messed them up a little, too. I thought we had them doing too much going into the first game. We tried to put the whole thing in, and it’s just too much. So that made them hesitant, as well.”
Compared to some comments Pierce made, it’s interesting that Rivers said putting the entire defense in was too much. Pierce referred to previous seasons and said he was surprised the offense now seems further along than the defense. In the past, he said, it hasn’t been that way. “I think the defense is something that’s got to come a lot faster,” he said, adding, “Usually the defense, we pick it up pretty fast. We understand our schemes. We understand our rotations.”
Boston’s inability to fully grasp defensive concepts is partially due to roster overturn — only four key contributors from last season played on opening night. But also, and I’ve stressed this point often, the Celtics now have fewer defensive-minded players. They aren’t bringing Keyon Dooling, Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma off the bench anymore. While that’s good for the Celtics’ point totals, it’s also good for opponents’… at least until Rivers and Garnett can mold this crew in their own likeness and begin forming the defensive chemistry to which Boston has become accustomed.