This Malcolm Brogdon quote sums up why Celtics aren't back in NBA Finals

This Brogdon quote sums up why Celtics aren't back in NBA Finals originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- When the Celtics go back to the drawing board this offseason, they might as well pin Malcolm Brogdon's post-Game 7 quote to the top of it.

Brogdon was asked after Boston's season-ending loss to the Miami Heat about the Celtics' inconsistent defense, whose lapses played a role in the team falling behind 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals before rallying to force a Game 7.

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Brogdon's answer illuminated the difference between this season's Celtics and the 2022 squad that reached the NBA Finals from this same spot a year ago.

"It was the issue," Brogdon said. "This was a team last year that prided themselves on defense. Defense was their calling card. And then this year, offense was our calling card, and I don’t think you win championships with the better offense than you have defense."

The 2022-23 Celtics placed a heavy emphasis on the 3-point shot under new head coach Joe Mazzulla, and it led them to the NBA's second-best record with its second-best offensive rating. But the defense, which boasted an NBA-best 106.2 defensive rating under Ime Udoka, regressed to a 110.6 defensive rating this season -- still good for second-best in the NBA, but in Brogdon's eyes, not good enough to get Boston over the hump.

"We were the best offensive team in the league, for sure," Brogdon added. "You talk about the ways we can score, our versatility on offense, really one through seven or eight. I thought we had the versatility and the talent defensively, but on any given night, we just let go of the rope and had a lot of breakdowns on that end.

"I think defensively is where the difference is for us, more than anything."

While the Celtics' potent offense masked their defensive lapses during the regular season, that formula proved unsustainable against the Heat. Boston allowed Miami -- the NBA's 27th-ranked 3-point shooting team during the regular season -- to shoot a blistering 43.4 percent from beyond the arc in the East Finals while averaging 109.1 points per game.

You could argue it was offense that let the Celtics down in Game 7, as they missed their first 12 3-pointers and shot just 23.7 percent from 3-point range. But if they didn't allow the Heat to average 120.7 points over the first three games, they wouldn't have been in this position in the first place.

"We've got to continue to defense first," guard Marcus Smart said after the game. "We were so bad on offense last year, and that's what the main focus was this year. Unfortunately, our defense took a hit from it. ... A lot of times our defense has been our kryptonite when we're not making shots."

If the Celtics want to get back to the NBA Finals in 2024, they'll need to rid themselves of that kryptonite and re-establish defense as their No. 1 priority.