Taking Physicality to New Heights

The Celtics have long prided themselves on toughness. Since trading for KG and Ray Allen, their dedication to hustling, physical play, and team basketball has made them key playoff contenders every season, and enables them to consistently bring down opposing star-studded lineups that often appear superior on paper. There is no other team in the Eastern Conference that understands playoff basketball like Doc’s Celtics, and last year’s run to the NBA Finals was a textbook example of how a tough mindset and commitment to physical play will always triumph over individual stat lines… especially in a seven game series.

Kendrick Perkins was the centerpiece to this incredibly intelligent and physical defense, and his presence in the paint and ability to use his size to limit the production of dominant big men such as Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol was incredibly valuable to this team. Now that Perk has been traded, along with a promising rookie in Semih Erden, this smaller Celtics’ team will have to play more physical than ever before if they want any chance of making it back to the Finals. With both Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal battling injuries, Nenad Krstic is currently the only healthy “true” center on the team. In other words, the Celtics are small, and are now at the same exact disadvantage as other Eastern Conference contenders such as Miami and New York. While adding Troy Murphy will definitely help their inconsistent rebounding, it is clear that the Celtics will no longer be able to control the paint against good teams like they once did, and with Shaq only logging around twenty minutes per game when he’s healthy, Boston will be frequently forced to go with small lineups. In order for this to work, every player on the court for Boston needs to play extremely physical, commit to bodying up their man, and box out to avoid getting massacred on the boards.

Even though the “Big Four” played great last night and led the C’s to victory over the Sloan-less and Williams-less Jazz, they were often overwhelmed by Utah’s big men, mainly Big Al Jefferson who scored 28 points and pulled down 19 boards. Games such as this really illustrate the impact that Perkins can have on a game without having dazzling individual numbers, and I hope that the Celtics will be better prepared for talented big men in the playoffs when they will have to battle Howard and the Magic, or Chicago’s twin towers in Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Boston will likely have more depth at the center position by then, but for now, they’ll need to step up their physicality to a whole new level in order to compete against talented big men since Krstic is now starting in place of Perk. Despite Jefferson’s dominating performance, the Celtics managed to outrebound the Jazz 42-41 with everybody except Von Wafer contributing to the rebounding cause. They will need more team efforts like this in order to compensate for the loss of a center whose presence in the paint is more dominant than most big men’s, while KG will have to lead this physical team in the paint while the other bigs get ready to contribute come playoff time. This may not be the same Celtics’ team that it was before the trade deadline, but with commitment to smart and physical play, they still have the ability to be the true Beasts of the East.