Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown stresses importance of defense to Celtics' title chances

Improvement on the defensive end of the floor will be key to the Celtics' pursuit of Banner 18 next season.

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Defense wins championships, and if the Boston Celtics are going to win Banner 18 next season, they know improvement must be made defensively.

The Celtics reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals despite ranking No. 7 among all 16 playoff teams in points allowed per game, No. 7 in opponents' field goal percentage, No. 11 in opponents' 3-point percentage, No. 9 in rebounds per game and second-to-last in steals per game.

Boston allowed 100-plus points in five games against the Miami Heat in the conference finals and went 1-4 in those matchups.

The Celtics, at times in the playoffs last year, showed flashes of the elite defense that fueled their run to the 2022 NBA Finals, but it wasn't there on a consistent enough basis.

Getting back to that level without Marcus Smart -- who was the defensive identity of the franchise for most of his nine years in Boston -- will be a challenge. Smart was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in late June as part of the trade that brought Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis to Boston.

Celtics star Jaylen Brown is determined to make sure his team has a focus on defense next season, and he's confident that Porzingis will be a key piece in that pursuit.

"I think what Kristaps can bring to us defensively, in addition to what some of our other guys can bring defensively, I want to make sure that's what we hang our hats on this year," Brown said Wednesday at a press conference, where his supermax contract extension was officially announced.

"That starts with me. That starts with Jayson (Tatum). That starts with Rob (Williams). With Marcus gone, we don't want our defensive identity to go out the door as well. We've got to really emphasize that at the start of training camp."

A frontcourt of Porzingis, Al Horford and Robert Williams III is probably the best in the league from a defensive perspective.

Porzingis is 7-foot-3 and has averaged 1.8 blocks per game in his career. Horford is one of the best low-post individual defenders in the sport and Williams is a super athletic center who ranks among the best defensive big men when healthy. Durability is a question mark with all three, though. Williams and Porzingis have battled plenty of injuries in their respective careers. Horford is 37 years old and about to enter Year 17 of his career. But if they can stay mostly healthy, finishing at the rim against the interior of Boston's defense will be a headache for opposing players.

On the perimeter, Smart's departure will force Brown and co-star Jayson Tatum to become even better defenders. This shouldn't be much of a problem because both of them are long, athletic and have a high basketball IQ. Derrick White is a very good defender, too, and Malcolm Brogdon also has the potential to be solid on that end of the floor if healthy.

Playing with pace and hitting 3-point shots will remain key areas of focus under head coach Joe Mazzulla, but if the Celtics want to make it further in the playoffs than last season, the defense has to go up a notch or two. Therefore, it's encouraging that Brown already has that mentality with training camp still more than a month away.

NBC Sports Boston Insider Chris Forsberg talks exclusively with Jaylen Brown about Boston being home, the one person he texted back yesterday, and finishing the job alongside Jayson Tatum
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