League’s best defense has carried Celtics to 8-2 start

Photo: USA Today Sports.

Everyone knew the Celtics would be great offensively. That’s what happens when you add one of the most gifted scorers on this round Earth at point guard.

But the key to Boston’s 8-2 start hasn’t been Kyrie Irving shaking the crap out of guys on the perimeter.

It’s been the C’s surprisingly stingy defense. Boston is allowing a league-best 93.8 points per game, a full 2.2 points better than No. 2 Utah (96.0).

They rank No. 1 in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing 95.6 points per 100 possessions, and haven’t given up 100 since the second game of the season (a 108-100 loss to the Bucks).

The commitment to defense is something you might expect from a Brad Stevens-coached team, and maybe it’s not a surprise that Boston is better defensively without Isaiah Thomas, who for all of his awe-inspiring heroics, was, unfortunately, a liability on ‘D.’

But Irving wasn’t exactly an all-world defender in Cleveland, either, and he seems to have taken much more interest in defending in Boston, where he’s the man and he doesn’t have to listen to LeBron’s drama or pretend to laugh at his jokes or whatever his problem was.

Kyrie has run himself ragged chasing guys on the perimeter, and he’s had active hands, contesting shots like we haven’t seen before.

While he’s on the floor, the C’s are giving up an average of 96.5 points per 100 possessions, which is the best ranking of his career.

He’s more interested, he’s happier, and he’s playing for a great coach, so you can understand why Kyrie has become a much better defender this season.

The turn-up on defense is exactly what the Celtics needed in the early part of the season, while everyone is trying to feel each other out on the offensive end, and guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are growing into their roles.

Tatum (13.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Brown (15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) have been impressive so far, and both have played 30-plus minutes per night. Both have showed All-Star-like flashes, and Tatum just might end up being the best player in an excellent 2017 draft class.

Most newly-put-together teams struggle out of the gate (just look at the Cavs), so it’s extremely encouraging to see the C’s rolling at 8-2.

Most basketball watchers still peg Cleveland as the favorite to get out of the East, but we’re not so sure about that.

Kyrie Irving is an all-world point guard–he was a huge part of the Cavaliers’ success, and replacing him with a 5-9 dude with a bad hip and not much to offer on ‘D’ doesn’t exactly scream ‘return straight trip to the NBA Finals.’

If Brown and Tatum improve as much as they’re capable of in the next 72 games, the C’s might just have enough to take down Cleveland–even without Gordon Hayward.

At the very least, the focus on defense and rebounding (Boston ranks second in the league in rebound percentage at 53.4%) will bode well come playoff time.

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