Aiming for Toughness

This team has always been about toughness, a gritty defense and fierce collective effort to win it all. For three and a half years we saw the same philosophy of game develop before us and we all took it for granted. Our starting five knew the defensive schemes by heart and executed it with the purest perfection. The list of players that have helped the Celtics regain their status as a competitive and hardworking team contains the names of Tony Allen, Leon Powe, James Posey and Rasheed Wallace. Players who will not be denied, who will do anything to stop and frustrate their opponents with restless effort. This team has always been the hardest and strongest mentally in the whole league. This factor, mixed in an imaginary test tube by our crazy doctor-also known as Glenn Rivers- with a profuse infusion of ubuntu African roots has made this team regain the respect this franchise has always generated.

On the last days of February though, we saw the alchemy of the whole experiment disturbed and finally put into a dangerous peril. The mix was good, the doctor was pleased with the results but the owners of the laboratory decided that new components had to be included in order for the formula to be more successful in the future. In order to add a touch of versatile and talented Green factor and a scent of Serbian offensive touch, the mixed had to be devoid of its most basic element: the proud and brutal Perk. The Celtics lost their primitive power, the result of hard hours of training and sacrifice that had consolidated the defense in the paint.

The results have been evident since then. The new mix is rather unstable, the most volatile element -the promising and incredibly gifted Rondo- seemed to be evaporated in the new equation. The main part remained unscathed -the ultimately competitive Big Three still carried the load of the games with efficiency- but the rest of the components had to be redesigned. Along with the Oklahoma flavored elements, the C's added some more Irish punch, some drops of Montenegro shots and the melody of Latino dance in Murphy, Pavlovic and Arroyo. The team seemed fresher, healthier and had more versatility and talent in all the positions. Probably, and on paper, this team looked better than ever.

Despite the success of the operation in the end -the team remained at the top of the Eastern Conference- a noticeable flaw was growing evident in the formula: the team missed the lost element that made the mix perfect. This team had lost its toughness, its determination to limit the paint and force the opponent to shoot from outside. Without Kendrick Perkins, the team has struggled to contain the biggest players in our enemies. While Krstic has shown a lot of offensive talent, his ineffective D has been exposed. He can't stop anybody faster or stronger.

With the current available players, this team is not the main candidate to remain unbeaten and victorious by the end of June. We are beatable, our team is not covering the space in the middle and the water is coming inside the ship despite the brutal rowing of the rest of the crew.

That gap in the paint though, is expected to be filled by the return of our two O'Neals. By this time next week we will have Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal back in the mix and the results will make us tougher and meaner. You can't score over Shaq and you can't fly over Jermaine's blocking radar. Shaq will make you pay with his physical brutality and Jermaine will make you pay for leaving him open with his flawless mid range shot. They will both block, hit and close the sky of the opposing centers and in pain they will hide in their nests.

Dark times are ahead for the rest of the league. The mean, black and brutal Celtics are about to regain full shape. The Celtics will be finally what they are conceived to be: the most effective defensive and team oriented team in the league. The toughest, physically and mentally. The most logical and deservedly so candidate to win the title in June 2011, our Boston Celtics