BOSTON (CBS) -- After finishing last season as one of the NBA's best defensive teams, there were high hopes for the Celtics heading into the 2016-17 season.
But through the first six games of the campaign, to say the Celtics have been awful on that end of the floor would be an understatement. Those struggles have been evident during the first two weeks of the season, but boiled over Sunday night when they allowed 77 first half points to the Denver Nuggets (on the second leg of a back-to-back) on their way to an embarrassing 123-107 loss in front of their home crowd.
It was so ugly that the Celtics were met with a smattering of boos as they left the floor at the half.
After Sunday night's debacle, opponents are now averaging 111.8 points per game against Boston, the second-worst in the NBA (only Phoenix is worse at 113.3 points per game). The Celtics own a defensive rating of 110.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, also second-worst in the league.
To put it lightly, the Celtics defense has been unacceptable for head coach Brad Stevens.
"I think defense is one of those things that you've got to go out there and do it," the coach said following Sunday's loss. "It's not about talking about it. It's not about the anticipation of how good we can be. That's an everyday commitment."
Stevens called his team's defense more "finesse" than physical, which has to change if the team wants to get back to the defensive nightmare they were last season.
"Bottom line is, when you have a spot, you have to hold it. When you have a spot, you have to take it. And we're not," Stevens elaborated, taking the bulk of the blame for the team's deficiencies. "So whether it's changing who plays, whether it's creating a new scheme, whether it's subbing differently, whatever the case may be, we just have to figure that out."
Celtics players were just as critical as Stevens following Sunday night's loss, none too pleased with the putrid display they put on in front of their fans.
"We're not as good as we thought we were," said Isaiah Thomas, clearly embarrassed by Sunday night. "When we don't come out with a sense of urgency, we're not a good team, and that's what happened tonight.
"At this point, we're all talk," added Thomas, who has actually improved his defensive game from last season. "That's all we're doing. So until we put it together in a full 48-minute game and show what we can do at that end, we're not gonna be a top defensive team."
The Celtics have been undermanned recently, missing Al Horford the last three games (concussion) and Jae Crowder for the last two (ankle). But the players aren't going to allow that to be an excuse for their poor defensive performances, and they remain confident they can right the ship soon.
"Defense is all about effort," said Avery Bradley, Boston's longtime defensive stalwart. "People just need to bring it every single night."
"I mean this is only our sixth game," added the guard. "So I'm happy this is happening now so we're able to fix it."
Reinforcements will be back soon, with Horford expected to return to the lineup Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards. But even with their free agent prize back on the floor, nothing will change unless the Celtics start to show some muscle on the defensive end.
It's been disheartening to see over the first six games of the season, but the Celtics know they have to be better -- a lot better -- or all that preseason chatter about being one of the NBA's top defense will be an embarrassing goal they couldn't live up to.
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