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Your Morning Dump… Where the C’s defense is finally coming together

Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.

They still have to prove it to themselves, too. Smart and others called out the team last fall for not defending up to last season’s standard, essentially saying they had become soft. He may be ready to admit the tough-guy standard is again being earned.

“We’re getting back there, definitely,” he said. “Some work to do, but there’s more and more games we’re playing that way, putting those types of games together. We see glimpses of it, but we have to do it for a whole 48 minutes.”

[…] “We’ve played better recently and the numbers back that up,” said Stevens. “But that’s something you have to go do the next game. It’s hard to be a good defensive team night in and night out. The difference between a top-10 defensive team and whatever we are right now is a point per possession, maybe. One point out of a hundred possessions. So it’s a small margin. We just have to continue to build on what we’ve been doing, because we’re getting better.”

Herald: Celtics finally see value to playing with chip on their shoulder

The scene

Florence, Italy. The year is 1502.

Michelangelo taps his hammer and chisel to a giant block of marble that is barely taking any discernible shape. There is a knock at the door. In walks Michel di Felgerini, a local scribe.

Felgerini: So, what’s this giant rock supposed to be?

Michelangelo: It’s going to be a statue of David. I have this grand vision of…

Fegerini: David? The guy from the Bible? The giant slayer? No offense, Mike…

Michelangelo: My name is… Michelan…

Felgerni (interrupting): … Mickey, Mikey… whatever… no offense but this giant rock sucks. And now I hear they’re talking about you doing some work at the Sistine Chapel? Frankly, I don’t see what anyone is talking about with you. You’re supposed to be this great artist but all I see is a big rock and no sign it’s going to be anything. Talk about overrated.

Felgerini turns and walks out snickering to himself. Michelangelo goes back to his work, muttering under his breath how he doesn’t understand why so many people pay attention to Felgerini.

End scene

The Celtics defense was shockingly bad at the beginning of the season. But now, with nearly a full season of perspective to look back over the sculpting of this team we can see that injury and experimentation had delayed he evolution of a good defensive team.

Long stretches without Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder limited what the Celtics could do. And Brad Stevens’ early insistence on the Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Smart, Crowder, and Horford lineup helped sink the Celtics defensive rating to the bottom of the league.

Now, though, we have the early season lessons to lean on and a pretty healthy team to execute the defensive strategy. The Celtics have climbed to 12th overall in defensive rating and 4th in the league since the All Star break. If they’re going to make any kind of run in the playoffs, they are going to have to keep up this defensive intensity and shut teams down rather than try to out-score them.

In a funny twist, the Celtics uptick in defense coincides with a drop in their offense. Their post-All Star offensive rating is 103.5, good for 21st in the NBA and tied with the Knicks and Pistons. Before the break, they had the league’s sixth-best offensive rating. As a result, their net rating has dropped from 3.4 to 1.5.

So what does all this mean?

To me, it means (a) the Celtics can’t really be any good without being fully healthy. The most positive results have come when we’re not forcing guys to do too much outside their comfort zones. And (b) it’s hard for this team to be good at offense AND defense. I really do think some of the earlier failures were partially due to guys expending a lot of energy on the offensive end and taking it a little easy on the defensive end. This team, as good as it is, lacks the talent to be a great two-way team. They almost have to choose which end they’ll take most seriously and roll from there.

I think that focus should be on the defensive end. It might result in guys taking a few more jumpers but it could also result in more turnovers and transition offense. That’s going to be how playoff basketball is played, so the Celtics might as well get used to it now.

In the end, it takes a full season to come to the final judgement of what the Celtics really are. Yeah, we’re not in the business of sitting back and waiting… things like daily podcasts and social media analysis exist… but with all of the things going on in the short-term we have to keep a long-term view in the back of our minds.

David was a giant block of marble that, over time, was crafted into a masterpiece. This Celtics defense was a big mess and it’s being crafted into… well… not quite as masterful as David but still something a lot better than it was before. And maybe it will get even better over the next month or so and we’ll take a step back and realize it these guys were building up to something after all.

Page 2: Jae Crowder is cool with taking a back seat to win

“I don’t put a ceiling on my game,” he said. “Once the opportunity presents itself, I try to just step up to the opportunity. But we run a lot of stuff for Isaiah on the court and that just limits me on the offensive end a lot, so it is what it is.”

[…] “I play to win games,” he said. “I don’t care about what the fans say or what the critics say about anything, to be honest with you. That’s what I bring to a team. I’ve become a real student of the game. I watch a lot of film. I critique myself on a different level. It’s all just growing up and being a smarter basketball player, and I think my dad has always encouraged me because it helps me.

“I don’t really get caught up in stats. That’s not why I play the game. I’ve won a lot of accolades, but at this level I don’t care about that. I just care about winning. I want to go down as a winner.”

Globe: Jae Crowder has improved offensively. But he’s accepted a complementary role

Crowder’s shooting has been so good this year. It’s hard to really grasp how good it’s been because it’s not easy for anyone to take 10 shots a game and still hit the percentage he does. Most guys need to get going and get into a rhythm.

I’m curious what Crowder would do with more shots. Would he have bigger production like he did against Brooklyn, or would he just become less efficient?

I’d love to see the Celtics play at higher pace to make that happen, but that’s not going to happen this season. Like Crowder said in the piece, they run so much for Isaiah Thomas because he’s their best offensive threat that others sacrifice a bit to make that happen. I don’t think Crowder gets appreciated enough for being that guy.

Whether Crowder gets that opportunity depends on where he is next season. Will he be here in Boston, or will he be part of a trade? And will that trade get him more chances to score and show his full game?

We Boston fans have been criticized for falling in love with some of these players, but it’s tough not to love Crowder. I’ve long said he’s the perfect Boston player. He’s gritty, he’ll defend his ass off, and he’ll hit big shots when needed. He’s a blue-collar guy who sacrifices for the team and does what needs to be done. It’s hard not to love that guy.

If he does need to go in order for the Celtics to take that next step, then we will all wish him well and thank him for what he did… and then wait for that next fan base to hit us up on Twitter to say “now I see why you guys loved him so much.”

And Finally…

The Cleveland Cavaliers sat LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving for last night’s nationally televised game against the Clippers. This is the second week in a row one of the league’s premier teams rested ALL of its stars for a Saturday night ABC game. And the league was NOT happy about it.

To be fair, this wasn’t exactly like the Warriors-Spurs situation. Kevin Love is rehabbing an injury and is on a back-to-back restriction. Kyrie Irving is hurt.

I wrote a lot about this in last Sunday’s dump so I won’t rehash it all. I fully understand the arguments of all sides here.

Fans get one shot at seeing a player and resting LeBron last night robbed people of the experience. That’s bad for the league.

Disney shelled out a ton of money and marketed the hell out of this game and the chance to watch LeBron. How many times will ABC get screwed out of star players before people decide they won’t watch? If that happens, then the next TV deal could be lower than this one… and everyone gets a pay cut.

The Cavs are trying to win another title and LeBron has played a lot of minutes this season. Resting is VERY important as it reduces the risk of injury. People don’t really appreciate the intensity of maintaining a healthy NBA body, and days of rest help make sure the body can take it. This happens to be mostly where I fall on the matter, because I think player safety is of the utmost importance.

I’m sorry if you can’t grasp the need for rest. Maybe some guys in the past did without it. Maybe some guys in the past could have used it and prolonged their careers. But the research has been done and there is merit to resting, even if it means missing a game or two in what may ultimately be a 100 game season.

However, we all have different perspectives on this and, as I said, I respect the other sides of this. It bothers me that a family picks a game like this, shells out a bunch of cash, and gets a crap product. I get the league needs to put its best product out there for the fans to watch in person and at home. I personally lean towards the player safety end of things, but I get this side.

I will ask you, though, whatever you do… don’t do what Karl Malone did.

I can’t stand when people use first responders as props for their misguided arguments. What the hell do the police and fire departments have to do with any of this?

What bothers me most about this is that it’s supposed to be some kind of “checkmate” move in the argument because now the only way to refute it is to compare the rigors of being a cop or a firefighter to playing basketball. These are two completely different worlds that in no way should be compared. I’m certainly not going to make any arguments that can be misconstrued as the denigration of the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to make sure we’re safe.

So what Malone did here was basically use first responders as human shields in an argument that should never have gone there in the first place.

Don’t do it. It’s a shitty place to take this argument. Frankly, I think it’s insulting to the first responders to be dragged into something like this.

The rest of the links

Globe: LaVar Ball on fatherhood and how he’s raised his 3 sons

Herald: Amir Johnson believes Magic up to the task in LA

CSNNE: Celtics-Sixers preview: Don’t be fooled by Philly

ESPN Boston: Hack-a-Smart a distant memory for Celtics guard