Winning has often been associated with the Boston Celtics and yet in the last 15 years, they only have one NBA championship to show for it.
Getting to the postseason was never the issue, as the Celtics missed the NBA Playoffs just once. During that span of time, Boston was able to transition from the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce, to the dynamic duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Their supporting casts, though, changed faster than you can count the number of banners in the TD Garden, a product of the constant tinkering by Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, the former and current Presidents of Basketball Operations, respectively.
There were certainly highs as the Celtics had the best defense in the NBA at certain points in time and even made eight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2008. But apart from the 2008 NBA title, the other seasons ended in lows. Each summer thus brought Boston back to the drawing board and this year was no different.
The Milwaukee Bucks made quite the splash when they acquired Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers, but the Celtics quickly swooped in to acquire Jrue Holiday from the Blazers.
In giving up Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, a top-four protected 2024 first-round pick (originally owned by the Golden State Warriors), and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick (from Boston), the Celtics are going for a more athletic and flexible lineup.
The height is still there thanks to Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, and nothing changes with where the offense runs through (i.e., Tatum and Brown). However the move puts even more emphasis on defense, with Holiday, who is a five-time member of the NBA’s All-Defensive Team, joining All-Defensive Team selections in Horford (2018) and Derrick White (2023).
Last season, Boston’s opponents made only 46.3 percent and 45.5 percent of their shot attempts during the regular season and postseason, respectively. These were the fifth and seventh-best marks in the NBA, but a deeper dive into the numbers reveals that it’s not as iron clad as it seemed. Opposing teams attempted more than 60 percent of their shots from inside the 3-point line, with opponents making at least half of their attempts from there. Even with Horford and Robert Williams in the fold, opposing teams were persistent in driving to the basket.
So why add Holiday? The easy answer there is to disrupt.
Athletes are creatures of habit, no matter what they do to prepare for the unexpected. NBA teams run their set plays and players like to get the ball in their favorite spots on the court. Holiday has made a career in preventing that and even when his cover gets to his favorite spot, Holiday makes life hard for them to get a clean shot off.
Defensive stops are usually marked by stolen balls and blocked shots, and while true, sometimes taking players and teams out of their element by reducing the time for them to get into their offense or forcing them into ill-advised shots are enough to lead to a wasted possession.
Durability may perhaps be Holiday’s most pressing concern, as he has only played in at least 81 games twice. Load management will certainly be in the cards, but in a loaded squad like the Celtics, Holiday won’t be asked to carry a heavy load and with what we’ve seen during his time with the Bucks, he is more than capable of making the most out of his opportunities.
The recipe for championship success has eluded the Boston Celtics for more than a decade and the acquisition of Jrue Holiday is their latest attempt in joining the arms race that has picked up in recent days. It remains to be seen how it will pan out, but Holiday’s addition is likely to keep opponents uncomfortable on and off the court from today until perhaps June.