Celtics show what they can do with return of key defenders


BOSTON – It seems most of this season has been filled with a key member of the Celtics backcourt working their way back into basketball shape following an injury.

Avery Bradley has missed only four games, but that left hip injury he sustained against Brooklyn earlier this month is still giving him some discomfort.

And while Marcus Smart has been back with the Celtics for the past nine games following a left knee injury, he too is a work in progress when it comes to regaining his pre-injury form.

That makes what the Celtics have done thus far defensively this season all the more impressive and gives hope that this team has room to grow even more so on the defensive end of the court now that their key defensive perimeter players are on the mend.

We saw them at their best in the final minutes Wednesday in a 103-94 victory over Indiana, a game in which the Celtics finished off the Pacers with a 12-0 run, fueled by four steals and subsequent lay-ups in a 96-second span.

“We needed that, to get back on track,” Smart said following the win. “The last couple of games we’ve been losing in the second half, down the stretch. Teams have been going off, scoring more than they should on us. We understood that we need to bring back that [defensive] identity.”

But that’s easier said than done when you consider Boston’s Big Three perimeter defenders – Smart, Bradley and Jae Crowder – have only suited up for the same game 14 times this season, while logging a total of 86 minutes together.

And remember, a number of those games involved either Bradley or Smart coming back from an injury, which meant limited minutes at first and thus limiting the potential impact they could make collectively.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told in an exclusive interview this week that his team’s play thus far this season has been inconsistent.

Still, Ainge said he has been impressed with what the Celtics have been able to do on defense, despite missing key defenders Bradley and Smart for significant chunks of the season.

Boston, which ended a four-game losing streak Wednesday, have a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 98.2, which ranks third in the NBA behind Indiana (98.1) and San Antonio (93.5).

“I think that’s pretty impressive, with different lineups and so forth,” Ainge told “That’s the one really bright thing [from the first half of the season].”



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