NEW ORLEANS – If there ever were a time for Boston to relocate its dominant defense, Monday night would be it.
The Celtics are slated to face off against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, who boast one of the most intimidating offenses in the entire NBA.
New Orleans enters tonight’s matchup ranked second in the league in scoring (121.7 PPG) and fourth in the league in offensive rating (112.8). It racks up the points by playing with the league’s third-fastest pace, which presents a hefty list of problems to any opposing defense.
“They really get up the court,” Brad Stevens said of the Pelicans at Monday morning’s shootaround. “All five guys can bring it up. All five guys can beat you off the dribble. All five guys are willing to shoot from really anywhere. And when you look at Davis or Randle at the 5, with their ability to bring it up, with all the shooters around and the way they slip screens and play together and space the floor and do all that, they put you in a bind in a lot of ways”
Davis, who is listed as questionable for tonight’s 8 p.m. tip-off but said Monday morning that he plans to play, is at the center of New Orleans’ attack. He is quite possibly the most versatile player in the league and enters tonight’s game with averages of 27.0 points and 4.9 assists per game at the offensive end of the floor.
New Orleans’ offense revolves around Davis, but he isn’t the only player who makes the Pelicans go. They are deep, with many talented offensive players.
Four other members of the team are averaging at least 16.3 PPG. Jrue Holiday (20.0 PPG), Nikola Mirotic (19.1 PPG), Julius Randle (18.1 PPG) and E’Twaun Moore (16.3 PPG) make up that group as the other top weapons that surround Davis.
That fivesome has logged a net rating of pus-33.5 when playing together this season, which ranks 15th in the league among all five-man lineups.
Boston’s priority tonight is to eliminate what the Pelicans do best. The Celtics believe that the key to doing so is to play with a similar level of effort and speed.
“Matching their pace on the defensive end to balance out on their offensive end,” Marcus Smart said of what Boston must do when it takes the court tonight. “That’s been a problem this year for us. Our pace and our intensity hasn’t been up to par or at the standard for us, and we’ve got to get back to that.”
Al Horford and Kyrie Irving added that the Celtics must make a concerted effort to get at least two players back on defense to meet New Orleans in transition.
Irving also believes that if Boston is successful at the defensive end, it will be able to exploit the Pelicans’ frenetic play with its own offense.
“Just getting stops when they’re pushing the ball like that,” said Irving. “I think we can take advantage of some mismatches in transition and see how they react to that and use it to our advantage.”
Most opponents have likely deployed similar game plans against the Pelicans’ offense. Few of them have worked, as is evidenced by the impressive numbers New Orleans has racked up so far this season.
This Boston team is different than most, though. It ranks second in the league in defensive rating this season and it led the league in that category a season ago with largely the same cast of players.
This defense has shown that it’s capable of dominating opposing offenses. Although it hasn’t done so very regularly of late, there’s no better time than tonight to get back to that dominant style of play.
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