- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Celtics have struggled to defend the 3-point line this season.One of the hallmarks of Boston's defensive success throughout the Big Three era has been the ability to defend the 3-point shot. The Celtics have ranked in the top five in opponent 3-point percentage since the start of the 2007-08 season, but currently sit at No. 18 through 23 games of the 2012-13 campaign.
Let's start with a glance at the numbers over the past six seasons:
C's defending 3s
Boston's 3-point defense has been thrust into the spotlight in recent games, particularly after the Spurs (12-of-25, 48 percent) and Rockets (10-of-27, 37 percent) bombed away from beyond the arc while sweeping both nights of a Texas back-to-back over the last 48 hours.
The Celtics appeared to be settling in with their 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot a mere 33 percent from distance during Games 10-20 this season. But the last three games have seen a spike up to 40 percent. Boston must find ways to limit the 3-point damage.
Before the Celtics departed on this three-game road trip, head coach Doc Rivers brushed off concerns about 3-point defense.
"I think, defensively, our numbers are getting better, so I’m not concerned about the numbers total now," said Rivers. "I’m more concerned with where we are trending, and I think we are doing a pretty good job defensively. It’s been more of a process, and I think we’re starting to really improve on the process."
Rivers is right: The numbers had been improving. Until the last couple of outings.
Boston knew Houston loved to bomb away, but still got burned by the likes of Toney Douglas and Carlos Delfino (combined 5-of-8 on triples) off the bench. San Antonio put its crisp ball movement on display Saturday and Danny Green and Gary Neal combined to go 6-of-13 beyond the arc. That duo combined for three triples as the Spurs embarked on an 11-0 run in the third quarter and erased all the work Boston had done in rallying to tie the game.
To be sure, the Celtics have other glaring issues to attend to, including turnovers and maintaining their defensive consistency over 48 minutes of action, but 3-point defense is shimmying up the list of things to watch. With good reason: It's an integral part of limiting the damage opponents can do, particularly when the Celtics play at their preferred pace and muddy up the game a bit by producing stops.
At the moment, opponents are registering 3s at an alarming rate, and it's forcing the Celtics to press at times when they begin to fall behind.
As for a means of shoring up Boston's 3-point defense, just look at Saturday's tape. Neal's 3-pointer to ignite the pivotal 11-0 run spotlights a lot of what has gone wrong lately.
Rajon Rondo missed a layup on the offensive end with a chance to give Boston a rare lead. The Spurs pushed the ball hard the other way, and the Celtics actually did a good job of getting back, but San Antonio kept Tiago Splitter at the top of the key and forced Kevin Garnett to monitor Neal on the right wing. Garnett elected to stay close to the basket and Neal buried the 3-pointer.
On the very next possession, Paul Pierce missed a layup and the Spurs got out in transition. Splitter received the ball in the paint, but with a crowd collapsing, he managed to kick the ball out to Green on the left wing and Brandon Bass couldn't get out quick enough.
Bottom line is that the Celtics have to be more cognizant of the 3-point stripe and at least contesting looks.