The Boston Celtics struck major success last season — appearing in their first NBA Finals contest since 2010 — large in part due to their top-of-the-league defensive efforts night in and night out.
Jayson Tatum, entering his sixth NBA season this year, and Joe Mazzulla, making his debut appearance in the head coaching role both shared similar sentiments — emphasizing the importance of maintaining that on-floor presence during the season against opposing offenses.
“Stick to our defensive principles, understand that we have five guys last year get an All-Defensive vote and that’s contagious,” Tatum said, as transcribed by MassLive’s Souichi Terada. “Everybody takes pride in guarding their yard, and obviously, we’ve got to help each other out. That’s where we gotta hang our hat on, especially trying to be the best defensive team in the league this year.”
Mazzulla, while provided with a majority similar roster featuring premier defense assets such as Marcus Smart — last season’s Defensive Player of the Year — and center Robert Williams — who finished second last season in blocks per game, also understands how crucial an elite defensive establishment is for a team.
“Identity — this is who we are,” Mazzulla said. “This is what we do. There’ll be plenty of time to be flexible and to make adjustments. But we have to have an identity — and we got to say, ‘This is what we do, and this is how we do it.'”
Mazzulla added: “We try to keep as much the same because it works. So that’s our defensive identity and how we’ve gone about teaching our progression. It’s the same roster and that’s kind of what we want to do.”
Last season, the Celtics finished atop the NBA with a 106.2 defensive rating and second in blocks with 5.8 per contest.