Where's the defense?

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
1:35
AM ET
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesAvery Bradley's return to action will help the Celtics' struggling defense.
No pressure, Avery Bradley.

The Boston Celtics endured their third consecutive loss by 18 points or more with Sunday's unsightly 118-96 defeat to the Sacramento Kings that capped a cover-your-eyes West Coast swing. The Celtics have plenty of problems to correct as they trek back home, but team defense has to be priority No. 1.

And this opponent shooting chart from the past three games sort of hammers it home. The Clippers, Warriors and Kings combined to shoot a ridiculous 51.3 percent (123 of 240) against Boston, including a whopping 49.3 percent (34 of 69) from beyond the 3-point arc:

Celtics - Last 3 games defense


The Celtics are hoping to welcome back third-year guard Bradley when the team hosts the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night at TD Garden. While Bradley, coach Doc Rivers and teammates have gone out of their way to stress that Bradley shouldn't be viewed as a single savior, the Celtics are in such dire need of a defensive turnaround, he'll unfairly be saddled with expectations of steering this wayward ship back on course.

Make no mistake, Bradley will help, particularly when he's able to regain his spot in the starting lineup (which could be immediately). Jason Terry has done an admirable job bridging the gap in a starting role that no one on the Celtics had wanted to press him into, but Terry's defensive numbers are an eyesore. According to Synergy Sports data, Terry has allowed a whopping 0.976 points per play and ranks merely in the 16th percentile among all NBA players. That's far and away the worst number on Boston's roster.

It's not fair to pin all the blame on Terry, who wasn't brought in to be a lockdown first-unit defender (quite the opposite, Boston needed his second-unit offense). Despite his deficiencies, particularly at an advanced age, he's a hard-working defender and a lot of times opponents have been knocking down tough shots over him. But Boston is hoping that Bradley's harassing on-ball defense will not only slow down opposing shooters, but limit the amount of dribble penetration that has plagued the team and often left opposing big men easy looks when the defense collapses.

The way opponents have shot the last three games, Boston has had virtually no chance to be competitive. The Celtics have endured double-digit deficits early, which has put additional strain on the offense. When opponents can't miss, it's impossible to hang around. Boston wasn't able to put together any sustained runs over the past three games and was always playing from behind, particularly in the second half.

"We've just got to do better," Rivers said of his team defense after Sunday's loss in Sacramento. "I've got to figure out the right guys who want to do it consistently every night. Every time we look like we're going to make a run, we give up a layup or open 3 and a lot of it is just -- No. 1, we've got to just guard the ball better, keep the ball in front of us. I thought the Clippers and Golden State just went [isolations] for the most part and just said, 'We're going to score over your guys, one-on-one.' And then tonight we just had breakdowns again. So it's disappointing."

In summary, Rivers said, "Defensively, we were bad the whole trip."

The Celtics almost have to be better returning home. Bradley will help, but no one should expect him to fix this defense alone. No, that's going to take a commitment from the entire team.

Boston has made tremendous strides with its offense, but all of that potential is masked at the moment by an inability to stop opponents. The Celtics need to get back to their defense-first roots, find a way back to being a top-five defense, and everything else should fall into place.

Bradley can help this team, but one thing is clear: Team defense will be Boston's only savior.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
16.9 1.7 0.7 34.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksK. Humphries 0.9