The second quarter lockdown defense swung the game in Boston’s favor.
The Celtics defense has come into form over the last few games. Before last weekend, Boston was rated in the bottom five of defenses across the league. It was a complete disaster from what they are known for under Coach Brad Stevens. Luckily, they have gotten it together and turned the corner the past few games playing complete team defense that once again showed out Monday night against the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors started out hot by making every shot they took in the first quarter, but then they regressed back to the mean in the 126-114 Celtics win. The Celtics were without Marcus Smart and Jeff Teague, so the bench was called upon to carry the load. This was especially important on the defensive side of the ball. After the Raptors hot first quarter, the Celtics could have just turned it into a track meet going up and down the court. However, they stuck to their game plan and had a complete turn around in that second quarter.
The Celtics outscored the Raptors 38-14 and completely cruised after that changing the feel to the game. Stevens went with a lineup revolving around Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye, and Robert Williams and let it ride as they were playing superb defense. With Tatum heating up on the offensive side, it led to a perfectly balanced quarter. Boston has been searching to seal things up on the defensive end. Monday night was a continuation of their previous games. This should be the standard moving forward.
One player who really stepped up on the defensive end (and in his confidence!) was Semi Ojeleye. He held his own getting big minutes defending Pascal Siakam for chunks of this game. As the Celtics know from the bubble, Siakam is the key to stopping this Raptors offense.
In this clip, Ojeleye is able to play perfect defense staying in front of Siakam as he uses those long strides to get to the basket. Once Semi realizes he is deep in the paint, he bodies Siakam up and does not let him continue his drive. He then is textbook at defending straight up and down in the post leading to a missed shot. Siakam went on to only score 2 points on 1-for-5 shooting in that pivotal second quarter.
Our old friend Aron Baynes also was completely out of sorts in the second quarter of this game. He went 0-for-5 without scoring a point in the whole quarter (and the game). Baynes was affected by Robert Williams and Tristan Thompson looking to swat his shot at every attempt.
Both of these clips above show great team defense leading to Baynes missing close range shots. First, Grant Williams stays in front the whole possession against a quicker guard in Fred VanVleet. This lead to too many passes and Baynes missing two easy buckets. Rotations and help on the weak side does wonders for a complete team defensive effort. This is how the Celtics expect to play defense every chance they get.
Without harping too much on the negatives, this clip was another one of those mix ups on the screen and roll to where the player had a clear path to the basket. Jaylen Brown and Semi get turned around leading to Siakam having a free path to the basket. This is only important to highlight because this is the same style of play that freed up Domantas Sabonis in the game winner against Indiana. It is one of those small things that everyone knows Stevens goes over with the team countless times to perfect the defense.
Later in the game, however, the defense made the correct moves as Grant Williams helped over and blocked OG Anunoby driving to the basket. Robert Williams stepped out a little too far going for the steal, but as long as another defender can impact the shot around the rim, the defense can get away with playing aggressive on any screen and roll to the basket.
All in all, the defense is finally starting to settle in. They are playing with more intensity and swarming to the ball handlers creating turnovers and bad shots. It is important to see that even without Marcus Smart (and Jeff Teague who has been a bright spot defensively), the defense can play at the top level. This will be very important for the team with some big games coming up.