With Kevin Garnett Out for the Postseason, the Celtics Defense Needs to Step Up

Dan HartelContributor IApril 17, 2009

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 06:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics looks on against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 6, 2009 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Thursday morning, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers told WEEI-AM listeners that All-Star forward Kevin Garnett would likely miss the entire postseason due to a knee injury. The injury was suffered during a Feb. 19 game against Utah.

Garnett has missed the last nine games and 22 of the last 26 since originally injuring the knee.

The news comes as a shock to Celtics fans, many of whom believed that Garnett was being held out as a precautionary measure to guarantee he was 100 percent for the playoffs.

This is a huge loss to the Celtics lineup, and Garnett's skill and experience will be very hard to replace in the postseason.

However, the Celtics cannot hang their heads, nor can they afford to dwell on this. In fact, with the veteran leadership and chemistry on the team, I fully expect the Celtics to move past this and continue to play to the best of their abilities.

If anything good can come of this, it's that the Celtics team has been playing without Garnett for the last couple months. This means that Doc Rivers will not have to change game strategy, letting people continue to play in the situations they were in before.

Although this injury does hurt the team in a number of ways, offensively they are still a sound machine. Glen Davis has been filling the starting role of Kevin Garnett quite nicely (12.6 PPG and 5.6 REB in 16 games as a starter) and brings many aspects of KG's offensive game to the floor.

Davis has a nice 18-foot jump shot, which he has gained confidence in over the last few weeks. His 14.6 PPG and .470 shooting percentage in April attest to the fact that both he and his teammates are becoming more comfortable with him on the floor in an extended role.

The Celtics have players who can score. That won't be the problem. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are some of the best scorers ever to have set foot on an NBA court, and both will step up their responsibilities in the playoffs with Garnett out.

What the Celtics will need from their team in order to win is defense. From October to January the Celtics gave up an average of just over 91 points a game.

In February, the month Garnett was injured, opponents' points per game jumped to 95.8 a game. In March they gave up 94.5 a game. This April opponents scored an average of 102.1 PPG against the Celtics.

This shows the effects of going through an extended amount of time without your best defensive player (KG was the Defensive Player of the Year in '07-08) and your emotional leader on the court.

Getting past this loss will be a team effort. The big men, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis in the starting role, and Mikki Moore and Leon Powe off the bench, will have to do two things: stay out of foul trouble and not give up offensive rebounds.

From the guards, careful ball-handling to avoid turnovers and playing effectively on the perimeter will force opponents to start their offensive series with less time on the shot clock and force them to take shots away from the basket.

As far as individual predictions go, here is what I feel players need to do in order to keep the Celtics functioning as an all-around team.


Glen Davis

Davis needs to continue what he has been doing—shooting the ball well and playing with the belief that he deserves to be starting.

Good footwork and coordination along with quickness and power allow Davis to rebound the ball effectively. Davis is young, but previous playoff experience may help his consistency when the pressure is on.


Leon Powe

Leon Powe will come off the bench and be expected to play quality minutes during the playoffs.

Finishing strong under the basket will get Powe points and put the opposition in foul trouble. Powe has some of the best hands on the Celtics. Look for him to get second chance makes and foul draws.


Mikki Moore

One of the newest additions to the team, Moore's biggest challenge will be in game flow and consistency.

If Mikki can rotate effectively on offense, his height and 18-foot jump shot range will allow the Celtics to space the floor considerably.

On defense, rotating effectively will allow him to block shots and contest anything close to the basket.


Stephon Marbury

Perhaps the biggest quandary for the Celtics, Marbury has yet to wow anyone. His play has been unselfish, which is a good sign, but not overtly effective.

We know he can play, he knows he can play, but we're all just waiting for him to go off. He will need to step up his intensity in the playoffs; look for maybe a 20-plus point game from the veteran guard.


Paul Pierce

With Garnett out, Pierce is officially the emotional leader of this team. The Celtic great and captain needs to set examples for everyone else.

Heads up play and a fierce intensity on the court will encourage others to emulate him. The success of the Celtics really is in his hands.


These people, and others, will be the key to the Celtics' success or failure in the postseason.

Unfortunately the injury to Garnett does hurt the chances of the Celtics repeating. But the Celtics are often underestimated when it comes to the little things, and they have a deep enough bench to run a relentless assault from start to finish.

In sports, crazier things have been known to happen.