When Marcus Smart went down with a calf strain early in the fourth quarter of Saturday nights matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, things could have taken an ugly turn for a Celtics defense that had been struggling of late. Instead, Boston dug deep on that end of the court and nearly clawed its way to a victory over the defending champs before falling, 96-95.
It never would have been that close of a finish if it werent for some outstanding crunch-time defensive plays from the Cs, who almost battled back from a seven-point deficit during the final 94 seconds of regulation.
Trailing 96-89 with 1:34 remaining, the Celtics came up with three massive defensive stops against two of the best players in the world.
After Kemba Walker cut the deficit to five with two makes from the free-throw line, Daniel Theis came up with a great contest on the other end of the floor, forcing Anthony Davis into a missed jumper from the mid-range. Jayson Tatum then capitalized on the other end, delivering a beautiful step-back, free-throw-line jumper in Davis grill.
Next, Semi Ojeleye delivered in Smarts place by forcing LeBron James to commit an uncharacteristic crunch-time turnover, which Tatum turned into two more points on the other end.
Finally, Walker came through with a surprise block on another Davis mid-range attempt with just 10.8 seconds remaining. However, the All-Star point guard was unable to convert on the other end, missing the potential game-winning step-back jumper just before the final buzzer.
Had Walker’s shot fallen, it would have completed an epic comeback against the defending champs. But the fact that it didnt fall shouldnt take away from the great defensive effort Boston put forth, despite missing its All-Defensive First Team guard down the stretch.
The effort certainly wasnt lost on coach Brad Stevens, who said post-game, I thought our guys, especially at the end of the game, the last two minutes, did a great job flying around, did a great job of showing those guys multiple bodies and making it as tough as possible for them to get good looks.
It was especially impressive how well the Celtics defended Davis and James. They held L.A.s superstar tandem to 48 points on 18-of-42 shooting from the field, while their own superstar tandem of Tatum and Jaylen Brown erupted for 58 points on a far more efficient 25-of-37 clip.
Those two (Davis and James) are a handful, but I think we did a pretty good job, said Brown, who finished with 28 points and was a plus-13 despite the one-point loss. There were times when we could have rotated with a little more intensity and things like that, but I think I was proud of the way we handled our coverages. And Im looking forward to next time being a little bit more aggressive without fouling and stuff like that. But I thought we did a pretty good job of handling those two.
Tatum, in particular, did an excellent job defending Davis down the stretch. In years past, he may not have been able to hold his own against the taller, post-savvy All-NBA big man, but he said that his developing strength and defensive skill set allowed him to be more effective this time around.
Youve got to make it tough, Tatum said of his approach in guarding Davis. Somebody like him, hes going to make shots. Obviously hes super talented, but I took on the challenge and just tried to make it as tough as [I could].
Remarkably, the Celtics outscored the bruising Lakers 60-40 inside the paint. And that was music to Stevens ears after allowing San Antonio to connect on 27 of its 33 field-goal attempts inside the paint Wednesday night.
It didnt feel like the other night in regard to the ball getting to the rim, Stevens said. I mean, part of the paint issue is theyve got some guys that can just raise up over you at five feet and make it, and so it forces you into doubling before they get to that point. But again, I thought our guys did a good job. If you would have told me we held them to [96] going into the game. Id have taken it.
Still, the Celtics feel that they can improve even more on that end of the court. At least thats what Brown believes.
Defensively, I think we can give a little bit more, he said. We can be a little bit more intense, guards can help the bigs out a little bit more, but weve got to go to another level. Were sitting here with a bunch of games that we should have won, we could have won, but we didnt. Whatever it is, weve got to get over that hump. That means our energy and intensity has to improve. Sometimes it just takes that to start getting things rolling.
But at least now things seem to at least be rolling in the right direction on the defensive end for Boston after a phenomenal crunch-time effort against its archrival.

You may also like