By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Joining 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Thursday morning, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge claims he’s not a believer in the narrative that his team struggles against the best big men in the game.
I can think of only one game this year where we were dominated by an inside presence, and that was Embiid early in the year [he had 38 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists against Boston on December 12], but we’ve done a much better job on him since… Team defense is critical. It’s not on one position or one player. But our bigs, playing against some of the other bigs in the league, have held their own. I’m not worried about that position, nearly as much as other people seem to be worried about it.
While many Celtics observers may scoff at that, especially following the team’s lack of action to improve their frontcourt at the deadline, the numbers suggest Ainge is right. The Celtics have faced seven of the true big men who will appear in this weekend’s NBA All-Star game*. That includes:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Pascal Siakam
- Joel Embiid
- Domantas Sabonis
- Anthony Davis
- Nikola Jokic
- Bam Adebayo
*The Celtics have yet to face Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz this season.
In 12 combined games against those seven players, the Celtics have a 7-5 record, while holding the league’s elite forwards and centers to 20.6 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, and a plus-minus of -9. To put those numbers in perspective, that’s just about what Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic averaged all of last season. Vucevic is no scrub, but to reduce the NBA’s best to his status is no small accomplishment.
Keep in mind too that the Celtics have accomplished this despite a rash of injuries, including playing without arguably their best interior defender in Robert Williams for the last two months. With Williams return around the corner, it’s not unrealistic to expect the Celtics will only improve on these numbers as the playoffs get closer.
You can listen to Toucher & Rich’s full conversation with Danny Ainge here:
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.