Celtics Defense Will Find It Difficult to Recreate Sunday’s Effort Against Heat

by abournenesn

Apr 2, 2012

Celtics Defense Will Find It Difficult to Recreate Sunday's Effort Against HeatFor most of the season, the Celtics would have looked foolish trying to protect their trade secrets. A team that cannot rebound or beat quality opponents typically does not have any information anyone wants.

But, emboldened by their win over the Heat in what Dwyane Wade called "an old-fashioned butt-whooping," the Celtics demurred on questions about their defensive game plan on Sunday. The way they saw it, it was best not to give their opponents any hints.

"We've got a game plan," Brandon Bass said. "What, you want me to tell it all to you? No, man."

Avery Bradley, a second-year guard at the point of Boston's defensive thrust, showed off just how much his zipper-lipped backcourt partner Rajon Rondo has influenced him. Bradley is young and energetic, but he also does his homework, studying film and poring over scouting reports of the players he is likely to guard.

Asked what he saw in his preparation that allowed him to help keep Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, Bradley allowed a pregnant pause before he gave his careful answer.

"I don't have nothing to add," Bradley said. "I'm just playing hard. That's my main thing."

One obvious change since Bradley entered the starting lineup is that the Celtics' backcourt switches regularly on the perimeter. Against the Timberwolves on Friday, Rondo or Bradley motioned several times for the other to pick up his man when the Minnesota guards would try to run the Celtics off screens.

That was not a luxury Celtics coach Doc Rivers had when Ray Allen was in the lineup. For all of Allen's shooting prowess, he has never been a consistent, standout defender. The Celtics tinkered with a new approach when Mickael Pietrus shared floor time with Rondo, but it was not until Bradley began playing major minutes that the Celtics backcourt transformed into a defensive force.

As Rivers pointed out, when Rondo and Bradley switch, Kevin Garnett and Bass can stay closer to the hoop because they do not have to come out and hedge while their teammate scrambles back into a good defensive position.

"You've already got Kevin on the floor," Rivers said. "Avery and Pietrus give Rondo life defensively because he feels like, 'I've got some guys out here that can put some pressure on the ball.' "

As impressive as the Celtics' defensive effort was, a performance like Sunday's is most likely not repeatable. Too many variables fell the Celtics' way to assume that they will be able to dismantle the Heat to this extent in the final two regular-season meetings or even in the playoffs, if it comes to that.

Most glaringly, there was Miami's 15-for-32 shooting mark for shots at the rim, which contributed greatly to the Heat's 34.8 percent field goal percentage. The league average on such shots is 62.7 percent, and LeBron James, who hits nearly 77 percent of his attempts at the rim, was only 4-for-7 from that range on Sunday. The Celtics deserve credit for forcing James to take tough shots, but it is almost guaranteed that he will shoot better than that on point-blank shots in the future.

The Celtics also helped their defense with a crisp offense that shot 47.1 percent from the field, slightly above their usual percentage at home. The Heat thrive on missed shots, which let James and Wade leak out on the break and score easy baskets. The Celtics were able to hold down the Heat's running game and even outscored the Heat in fast-break points, 15-9.

"Boston did a nice job of keeping us out of the paint, and they're a really good defensive team," said Heat forward Shane Battier, widely regarded as one of the smartest defensive players in the league. "We shot a lot of contested jumpers, which led to their fast breaks, and it was almost a cyclical effect.

"We'd come down after a fast break and shoot another long jumper, and then they got out on the break, got the crowd in the game, and we just couldn't stem that tide."

And Chris Bosh, the ultimate whipping boy of Heat fans and detractors alike, shot just 2-for-11 from the field. He was never a factor, largely because Garnett would not let him be a factor. Bosh is 1-for-8 from midrange this season when Garnett is on the court, and his scoring average per 36 minutes drops off by nearly five points against the Big Ticket.

Bosh does not need to be outstanding against the Celtics for the Heat to win, though. Adequate would suffice, as it did last season, when he shot 58 percent from midrange against Boston when Garnett was on the court. When Bosh is hitting those shots, the defense needs to extend to contest them, opening lanes to the hoop for Wade and James.

This is not to detract from the Celtics' performance, but not even Rivers expects the Heat to fold so easily in the future.

"Miami didn't play well [Sunday]," Rivers said. "We had something to do with it, but they didn't play well. They're better than that. We know that."

The Heat are unlikely to put together another stinker the next time they face the Celtics. Of course, the Celtics could add a few extra wrinkles to their game plan and run Miami out of the gym again.

If that is the plan, the Celtics aren't telling.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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