Even with Kendrick Perkins back from injury and ready to help bring Banner 18 to Boston, the Celtics appear ready to push it down the stretch and roar into the playoffs. They are finally looking healthy, and continue to hold the best record in the record in the East. With Perk back as a valuable weapon, all is well at the Garden, right?
Sure, for now. But the Celtics now have a new issue on their hands. No, not injury. No, not a chemistry problem either. And no, no one is getting suspended for taking supplements that they allegedly didn't know were on the banned substances list. The Celtics are now facing a far more nuanced and vitally important issue of strategy.
Who will get more minutes come playoff time? Perkins? Or Shaq?
In the wake of Jermaine O'Neal's cocktail of injuries, Shaq stepped up his game and assumed a starting role. At 38 years old and in the twilight of his career, this seemed like a tall order. But the Big Shamrock found a way. Shaq has shown that he still has some game left, and contributed a great deal to this team up to now.
So now, the Celtics must decide how they are to go about balancing Perkins and Shaq in the playoffs. Here's a look at the reasons each should get more time down the stretch.
Sure, Perk's won a title with the Celts, and he's got a few extra years of playoff experience as well. However, Shaq's won multiple titles (the three-peat with the Lakers), and he's been the playoffs in almost every season of his career. After that unsavory stint with LeBron and the LeBronettes (sorry, the Cleveland Cavaliers), Shaq is once against surrounded by talent reminiscent of the breadth and depth of those Lakers teams of the early 2000s. Shaq can no longer carry the load like he did in his younger days, but he can contribute when he's part of a team with a broad skill set.
Shaq can still step it up in the playoffs, averaging 24.5 points per game in the playoffs, compared to 24.1 in the regular season. Shaq brings perennial postseason that Perk doesn't have, and can provide another stable force come crunch time. Perk's been in the playoffs and can likely handle the pressure, but Shaq is a seasoned professional who provides steady guidance when the going gets tougher.
Everyone reading this article knows the unfortunate truth: the Boston Celtics are an old team. With the oldest average age in the NBA, they've been forced to slow their game down in certain respects, and although they may be methodical and can work opponents through ball control and shot selection, they need younger players to balance out the aging roster. Perk is only 26 years old, compared to Shaq, who's 38.
Despite his knee injury last june, Perkins is back with the team and appears healthy. Shaq has already battled knee and calf injuries this year, and although not thought to be serious, he is now nursing a hip injury. The Celtics can't afford to lose another player, especially in the middle of the playoffs. Perk can withstand physical gameplay better than Shaq, and can bring more energy and an up-tempo aspect to the game that can complement the methodical game of the older vets.
Everyone in the NBA is pretty much aware of Shaq's free throw woes. For all his talent, he has been able to shoot free throws well, shooting only .527 from the charity stripe for his career. This has given rise to the "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy, which entails fouling Shaq to prevent hitting the basket, forcing him to shoot two free throws and therefore reduce the chances of points being scored. Of course, the downside of this strategy is that it can get opponents into foul trouble.
With Shaq playing in the paint, following him on his way to the hoop is almost inevitable. Playing Shaq for longer periods of time will eventually back opponents into corner and force them to play softer on defense. This can open up a host of opportunities on offense, whether it be working the ball down low and feeding Shaq, KG, or Glen Davis, or going inside-out and moving the ball to the wings to set up Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
Sure, Shaq can't shoot from the stripe, but that's not the ultimate advantage. It'll show up later when the game is tight and the defense has to back down in the face of foul trouble.
There's no denying that both Shaq and Perk have a huge amount of power in the low post, and they certainly use it to their advantage at both ends of the floor. However, Perks uses his power differently from Shaq. When Shaq gets the ball, he's more inclined to push straight toward the hoop and use his shear size to move past his defender. Sure, this is a great attribute, but it leaves Shaq more likely to pick up offensive fouls if he's too aggressive against defenders.
Perkins, in contrast, has a certain finesse quality that Shaq has never had. Because he smaller than Shaq, he has to find ways to out-work and out-maneuver his defender to get to the hoop. Perkins, in his relatively short career in the NBA, has already learned the art of backing toward the hoop and bumping his defender away before quickly turning to make the easy bank shot. This makes for an extra weapon for use alongside his ability to muscle his way into the paint.
Power's great, and almost always gets you points, but finesse demonstrates that extra edge you can get over your defender.
Following his three NBA Championships with the Lakers (2000-2002), and an NBA Championship with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat (2006), Shaq hasn't been in serious contention to win another ring. After bouncing around the NBA since his departure from the Lakers, Shaq will probably close out his career in Boston. This will probably his best chance to earn one more title before he retires, and he doesn't want to do it warming the bench and being entertaining (as much as Celtics fans seem to enjoy his antics in and around Boston).
Shaq wants to show that, even at 38 years old, he can still help a team win a Championship, and so in a meaningful. Shaq clearly has the ability to still play, and play well at that, despite his recent string of injuries. After word came that Shaq was unhappy with his limited role in Cleveland, the Celtics make look to give him a more important role and the extra minutes he wants.
Whether he wants to prove it others, or simply himself, Shaq wants to show that he is still valuable, especially when absolutely necessary. So far, he's shown his worth in the regular season. Now he wants a shot in the playoffs.
One of the painful moments in recent Celtics history (maybe in all-time Celtics history) came on June 15, 2010 during Game Six of the NBA Finals against the Lakers. Kendrick Perkins went down with tears in his PCL and MCL in his right knee, and Boston's imposing interior defender and extra-push scorer was suddenly gone for the critical Game Seven at the Staples Center. After the 22-point beatdown the Celtics suffered that night, Dan Shaughnessy remarked in the next day's Boston Globe that "the Celtics have history on their side...and not much else."
The Celtics would go on to lose Game Seven, and the NBA Championship, by a score of 83-79, in a game where Perkins' absence almost certainly made the difference late in the going. On the court, there was no late scoring push, which Perkins could have contributed to. Off the court, the Celtics were demoralized and scrambling to save their title run, and were left wondering what could have been.
Kendrick Perkins is healthy, and like the Celtics fanbase, he and the team want another shot at the Lakers in the Finals. The team also knows that this could be their last shot, with the Big Three rapidly nearing the end of their careers. The Celts want another title, and the team knows they need Perk to do it. Perk's ready to get back in the game to help win another title. All Boston needs to do is give him a shot.
The Boston Celtics will certainly face a tough task heading into the playoffs. Doc Rivers will have to find the best way to get both Shaq and Perk ample minutes, and find a combination that will best get the Celtics deeper into the postseason.
So, who gets the edge?
Shaq brings veteran experience, power and space in the low post, and a chance to get opponents into foul trouble. Perk brings finesse-based power, and a youthful presence to serve as a complement to the aging veterans. Both guys have an intense desire to win, and they each something to prove. Although they two different styles of play, they both have a huge interior presence on offense and defense.
So, what does Boston do?
I'm giving the edge to Kendrick Perkins on this one. Shaq definitely deserves minutes, but Perk is more athletic, opens up more options for the offense, and can play more physical (if the refs are in a good mood that day). He can score inside, and he can feed the wings and perimeter better than Shaq. Simply put, Perk can do more things. Like I said, Shaq absolutely deserves valuable minutes, since he can still score and present problems for opponents' offenses. However, Perk benefits from being younger and more able-bodied.
We'll see what the Celtics do. Whether they use this scheme or another, I feel that any decision the coaching staff makes will the right one. They've navigated the Celts to the Finals twice, and are certainly capable of doing so once more.
In Doc We Trust, and Go Green 18!