The Blazers begin their first East coast road trip of the season tonight in a matchup against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. Though the two teams boast different philosophies offensively, they are surprisingly similar in their defensive approaches -- or at least, defensive results.
The Celtics rely on a steady diet of shots from guard Avery Bradley and forwards Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. Point guard Jordan Crawford has been shooting a lot this year, too.
Bradley only takes a couple of threes a game, mostly relying on the mid-range and shots right at the hoop. Outside of the key, he's pretty solid, but even though he takes a lot of his shots at or near the rim, he's mediocre at finishing. Still, he's a guard who can create off the dribble, and Portland has struggled against ball handlers who can penetrate. Expect Bradley to come out and challenge the Blazers' perimeter defenders and league-worst paint defense out of the gate.
Green is a versatile wing who can hit the three-pointer at almost 44 percent, forcing defenses to stay honest when guarding him. He's not the best mid-range shooter, but he loves driving to the hoop and putting up shots at the rim. Bass stays near the paint and Crawford takes most of his shots at the rim, as well.
Seeing a trend here? Boston has some good three-point threats, but they get most of their points closer to the hoop. The Celtics' 4-5 record -- to go along with preseason accusations of tanking by many prognosticators, both amateur and professional, alike -- may be somewhat misleading when playing a team like Portland that just can't seem to stop opposing offenses from scoring inside. The strength of this Boston offense plays directly off the weaknesses of Portland and may in fact render the Blazers' excellent defense of the three-point line moot, simply because the Celtics don't attempt many outside shots.
Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Freeland will have to work extra hard protecting the paint tonight because they will be attacked over and over. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum will need to stay in front of their men, too, because Boston's wings will take it to the rack if given a lane. Damian Lillard and Mo Williams are going to have a heck of a time trying to keep Crawford and Bradley from slashing. Young Celtics bigs Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger also like to mix it up inside.
The good news for Portland's defense tonight? The Celtics aren't good at much else besides getting into and finishing in the paint. They rely on playing off the dribble too much, and their ball-movement suffers as a result. They cough up the ball a ton, hardly draw fouls, aren't good rebounders and start and finish games sluggishly. So there's definitely more than a small silver lining for the Blazers' defense. Even if the Celtics are getting to the rim and finishing, they aren't likely to be very potent from elsewhere.
Things might get interesting when the Blazers have the ball. The Celtics close out well on almost every single shot attempt, especially from outside. You may not expect such discipline from a young team with a new head coach in Brad Stevens straight from the college ranks, but they allow the fewest three-point attempts and three-point field goals in the entire league.
The Celtics' perimeter defense could spell trouble for Portland if the Blazers can't find ways to take and make threes, because they get a lot of their points from outside. Portland is the worst team in the NBA at scoring in the paint and they're horrible on the fast break, as well. Even if they did try to push it up the floor, the Celtics defend the fast break with fervor, though they have an interior defense that is almost as soft as Portland's.
The Blazers love to take mid-range shots, and they're one of the best teams in the league at converting them. The closer to the hoop you get, the worse the Celtics defend, though. Tonight may be the game where Portland needs to take what the defense gives them in order to pull out a win, and the three-pointer is not going to be given up willingly by Boston.
Portland usually has great ball movement, especially around the perimeter, but that may be taken away slightly by the Celtics' defense. Getting to the rim and establishing a post game should be a priority for Lillard, Williams, Aldridge and Lopez. Batum and Matthews -- who both take half their shots from behind the arc -- will probably have to adjust to Boston's rigid three-point defense and get to the rim where the underwhelming big man corps of Bass, Sullinger and rookies Olynyk and Vitor Faverani await. Not too imposing of a defensive frontcourt, right? After eight games, it might be time for Portland to finally do some work in the paint, especially considering the inexperience and ineffectiveness of Boston's bigs.
Overall, this is kind of a weird matchup for the Blazers because while the Celtics don't do much well, they play in such a way that the things they are good at -- getting to the hoop on offense and defending the three-point line on defense -- force the Blazers out of their comfort zones. There might be some adversity for Portland early, but they should be able to iron out the wrinkles and adjust to the Celtics' season-long game plan that seems tailor-made to cancel out the Blazers' strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
If Stotts can get his guys to contain Boston's slashers on defense and get some interior offense going when they have the ball, this is a winnable game for the Blazers. Executing their typical offensive game plan would play right into the Celtics' hands, though, and if Portland can't switch up the offense early a bit and score closer to the rim, they might find themselves in an unsurmountable hole, unable to climb out of it with the usual barrage of three-pointers due to Boston's suffocating perimeter defense.
Update: Joe Freeman of The Oregonian reports that Meyers Leonard did not travel to Boston with the Blazers as he deals with gastroenteritis.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter