Boston Celtics: 11 Reasons They Are Closer to a Title After Their Recent Moves

deleteth accounethCorrespondent IIIMarch 7, 2011

Boston Celtics: 11 Reasons They Are Closer to a Title After Their Recent Moves

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    I must admit, when I first heard the news that Kendrick Perkins had been traded, I hated it. If anything, my anger was an instant reaction to seeing a stand-up guy like Perk leave town so abruptly and with little fanfare.

    My anger had nothing to do with the potential on-court impact of Perk's loss; it was merely a knee-jerk reaction to seeing a fan favorite leave town under less than ideal circumstances.

    As the days passed, and I had time to calm down, I began to look at the moves rationally. I began to work out the ultimate end goal of GM Danny Ainge. Obviously, his actions were motivated by the desire to win a championship, but why had he felt the necessity to make such radical changes to a team already experiencing a great deal of success?

    A week later, I think I've come to a pretty solid conclusion as to why Ainge did what he did. And, after seeing brief glimpses of his vision come together on the court, I must say that I fully support what he's done.

    Believe it or not, but the Celtics are better off now than they were just a few weeks ago. I know, hard to imagine, but it's true. And here's why:

     

    Dan is a Boston Celtics featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @danhartelBR

The Celtics Run a Team Defensive System, Not an Individual Defensive System

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    The biggest criticism in the trade of Kendrick Perkins has been the fact that they lost arguably the best low post defender in the game of basketball. And, I might agree with that.

    Personally, I think Perk is the best one-on-one, center-on-center defender in the NBA.

    However, while there is no replacing what Perkins brought to the team individually, that doesn't mean the defense is going to take a huge hit.

    When the Celtics Big Three initially came together, it was all about defense first. It didn't matter that neither Ray Allen nor Paul Pierce were esteemed defenders.

    Despite the individual defensive lackings of Pierce and Allen, the C's put together one of the best defensive systems in the recent history of the league. It's because they were able to form a system based on the effort of the group and the personal sacrifices of each individual, not on the sole performance of one or two players.

    While guys like Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green and Troy Murphy don't bring the same individual defensive presence that Kendrick Perkins brings, they are more than capable of fitting into a superior defensive system—just like Pierce and Allen did four years ago.

    This same defensive system is why Shaquille O'Neal, not an elite defender by any standards, has been able to mesh so effectively with the Green. Shaq hasn't been a defensive liability on the floor this year—not because he's a great defender, but because he's bought into the concept of defense first and defending with intensity. Shaq has learned the complex system of defensive rotations that the Celtics throw at the opposition every night.

    There's no reason to expect that won't stay the same in the wake of Perkins' departure. While it may take some time for the newbies to learn the defensive ropes, I don't expect any drop-off in terms of team defensive production. 

The Celtics Are Still Big

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    This one's really quite simple, actually.

    The arriving bigs (Nenad Krstic, 7'0"; Troy Murphy, 6'11", Jeff Green, 6'9") minus the departing bigs (Kendrick Perkins, 6'10"; Semih Erden, 6'11"; Luke Harangody, 6'8") equals the same number of bigs, and three more inches of height.

    The accusation that the Celtics are no longer "big enough" to handle the frontcourt of the Los Angeles Lakers, or that they've lost their only conceivable weapon over the Heat (size) is quite ridiculous. The C's are actually bigger than they were before.

    This same argument quickly becomes one of quantity over quality. Since Semih Erden and Luke Harangody weren't going to crack any ideal playoff rotation, the question becomes whether Krstic, Murphy and Green can replace the contributions of Perkins.

    Well, they now have an extra two bodies to throw at the opposition. The Celtics are often criticized for their lack of ferocity on the glass during certain moments of the game, but they've just added three above-average rebounders.

    Instead of crossing their fingers and hoping that one man will clear out the rebounding lane for the rest of the team, the Celtics now have the adequate amount of depth to attack the boards for 48 minutes per game. 

    Plus, all three additions have certain levels of NBA credence and experience that make them safe plays during the playoffs.

    I'd like to think that the skills of three men, all starters in the NBA before their arrival in Boston, could replace the skills of one. 

    Not to mention that the Celtics still have Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal on the roster. By estimation, that's still a bucketload of skilled and extremely versatile height.

    While some fans think that the Celtics aren't as big as they once were, the opposite is true. The depth they have now in the frontcourt is greater than what they started the year with, and they have more experienced players to use in a lengthy playoff run. 

Jeff Green Matches Up Well with Potential Playoff Foes; Pierce Can Get a Rest

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    Jeff Green gives the Boston Celtics something they didn't have prior to the trade: a versatile player on both ends of the floor who can match up with the unique 3/4 hybrid that a few potential playoff opponents sport.

    Basically, Jeff Green is the perfect foil to a guy like Lamar Odom. Listed at 6'9", Green possesses the unique blend of athleticism and length that make him a nightmare matchup on both ends of the floor. 

    Green has plenty of experience playing against the Lakers and a guy like Odom. He was one of the biggest problems for the Lakers when the two teams met last year in the playoffs.

    If the Celtics were to make it to the NBA Finals and match up with the Lakers, they would have a weapon to use against Odom, which could certainly help take him off the glass and limit his effectiveness.

    Green also has the ability to match up with the likes of Luol Deng (6'9") if the Celtics meet the Chicago Bulls during the playoffs. Deng provides many of the same challenges as Odom: a solid, all-around player capable of attacking a team in a variety of ways on both ends of the floor.

    Now, with Green, teams are going to have a much more difficult time exploiting matchups based on versatility, height and athleticism.

    Because of his versatility and scoring ability, Green can run a defender ragged on the offensive end. He also has the length and athleticism to significantly bother players like Odom and Deng on defense.

    Also, the Celtics have finally found a suitable backup for Paul Pierce. Previously, the job had been tasked to Marquis Daniels, and while Daniels is no slouch on defense, his offensive game was sporadic during his tenure with the C's.

    Pierce no longer has to chase around a team's best scorer for the entire game, a job that is often relegated to him. Now, the presence of Green allows Pierce to get more of a rest than he would have previously been allowed, which should do wonders in opening up his offensive game. 

They're Better Suited against the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs

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    Over the last couple of days, one of the most common phrases thrown around by disgruntled Celtics fans is "they aren't big enough to contend with LA."

    I'll avoid challenging that statement (as I already have given my opinion on the height of the Celtics). But what if the Celtics never meet the Lakers in the Finals? What about the teams that they have to go through just to get to the Finals?

    The current combination of players that the Celtics have make it more difficult for the Miami Heat to successfully defend the C's in a seven-game playoff series. Depth becomes even more of an issue, and the Celtics still hold a significant advantage when it comes to size.

    As their recent debacle against the Spurs has shown, the Miami Heat struggle when it comes to facing teams with superior depth. Even when the Big Three playing well, Miami is going to have trouble winning games when the other team is getting solid contributions all the way down the depth chart.

    The San Antonio Spurs are also a potential NBA Finals matchup. While the focus has been on a Boston vs. LA rematch, the Spurs are in a great position to make sure that doesn't happen.

    San Antonio is currently on pace for a 67-win season, and they aren't showing any signs of slowing down.

    Against the Spurs, size won't be an issue. Their starting center (DeJuan Blair) is just 6'7"; they don't have a true center/seven-footer on the roster. 

    What they do have is a bevy of tough matchups. The Spurs are currently the best three-point shooting team in the NBA (40.3 percent), and the Celtics are now better equipped to handle them.

    Kendrick Perkins' value would be severely diminished against the Spurs. Defensively, he wouldn't have handled their biggest low post threat (Tim Duncan), and the Spurs don't exactly run their offense through DeJuan Blair.

    But the Celtics now have a guy in Troy Murphy who can extend beyond the perimeter on both ends of the floor, which should be key in limiting the contributions of Matt Bonner, the 6'10" forward/center who spends most of his time beyond the three-point line.

    And again, in Green, the C's have a versatile defender, capable of giving Pierce a rest and limiting the performance of Richard Jefferson, who is having a resurgent year in San Antonio.

Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille O'Neal Weren't/Aren't Ending Games

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    When it comes down to the last few minutes of the game, regardless of matchup, neither Kendrick Perkins nor Shaquille O'Neal would have been/will be on the floor.

    Glen "Big Baby" Davis will be. He's been doing it all season, and that's not going to change.

    Davis has joined the long Celtics history of the sixth man. While he isn't starting, he's playing starters' minutes (29:33 MPG), and he's the fifth guy who will end games along with the Big Three plus Rondo.

    Davis gives the Celtics something that they don't really have in anybody else. Offensively, he's not a liability (like Perkins) and he can shoot the jumper particularly well (unlike O'Neal).

    Despite his relatively short 6'9" stature, Davis is able to effectively finish around the rim by using his wide frame to put his defender in a spot where they can't block his shot.

    You can't employ a hack-attack strategy on him, as he's shooting 75 percent from the free-throw line this year.

    Defensively, while often undersized, he's as sound as they come. What he lacks in size he makes up for in footwork, positioning and hustle. He can effectively guard both the center and power forward positions, and he has an uncanny ability to take charges (leads the league).

    There's been a lot of hubbub about the loss of Perkins, but when it comes down to it, he wouldn't have been on the floor when the game matters most.

Shaquille O'Neal Gets to Stay in the Starting Lineup

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    We know that Shaq has been great as a starter for the Boston Celtics this season. We know that he's worked brilliantly in combination with Rajon Rondo, and that his low post presence and passing ability have helped open lanes for the rest of the players on the court with him.

    We don't know, however, how he would have performed in reserve duty.

    But, we no longer have to find that out.

    Once Shaq is healthy, which could be as soon as Wednesday, he'll likely rejoin the starting unit. This season, Shaq has played all 36 of his games as a starter.

    For the majority of the season, Shaq has been the guy starting at the 5. Not Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O'Neal or Semih Erden.

    It's O'Neal who has been present for most of the season, and we know that the Celtics are perfectly capable of operating with him in the starting unit and winning against the top teams.

    Shaq brings an offensive presence that Perkins never possessed. Teams just don't leave Shaq open around the basket, and for good reason.

    While he doesn't have the same explosiveness that he once had, he's shown this year that he can still use his size and his basketball smarts to thoroughly punish opposing frontcourts if given the chance.

    Shaq has worked great as a starter for the Celtics this year, and now that doesn't have to change.

On-Court Chemistry Isn't Really Impacted

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    Usually, when a team goes through a large roster shakeup, there are often major adjustments that need to be made. These adjustments often take time, and it can be a while before a team plays to its potential.

    However, I don't think that's the case with the Celtics.

    Obviously, the starting rotation with Shaq has been effective this season, and the recent moves haven't impacted the chemistry of the starting rotation in the least.

    And while the C's have a very different looking bench, there's not a great impact when it comes to on-court chemistry. Why? Because there was little to begin with.

    The Celtics bench has spent the entire season filling in for injured players and covering roles that they wouldn't normally have to fill. Because of that, the second unit has gotten almost no time together as a collective body. Since they haven't spent much time as a unit, there haven't been many bonds formed between players on the court. So, there isn't much to disturb.

    For example, Delonte West, who is expected to run the second unit, has only played in eight games all season. Because of this, he's had virtually no significant floor time with any member of the team.

    Also, players like Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels have been forced to play outside of their designated roles in an attempt to shore up the injured rotation.

    We've seen Nate play the point guard and the 2-guard, and his role has been up in the air this season. 'Quis was being used sporadically, often only as a defensive role player.

    The only steady fixture on the bench this season has been Glen Davis. However, Davis has done his fair share of playing beyond his role; he's started 10 games for the Celtics and has filled the void left by injuries at three different positions.

    Even if the bench did manage to get healthy in time for the playoffs, the second unit would have had to learn to play together regardless of whether the Celtics made any moves or not.

    And fortunately for the C's, the roles of most of the additions aren't really changing from what they were in the past. Guys like Kristic and Murphy aren't being asked to do anything outside of what they're used to. With them, it just comes down to learning the defensive rotations and the playbook.

    The only tough challenge is Jeff Green. His versatility means that the Celtics could certainly opt to use him in a variety of different ways, and it will be up to Doc Rivers to make sure that he maximizes that potential. 

Potential for Best Bench in the Playoffs

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    Delonte West. Jermaine O'Neal. Troy Murphy. Jeff Green. Nenad Krstic. Glen Davis.

    These are the main figures of the Boston bench. All of them could be starters on other teams in the NBA right now if healthy, and all of them have had significant experience starting in the NBA.

    The Celtics have a better bench on paper than the starting lineups of some other NBA teams.

    They now have legit backups for all positions, and they can get both offense and defense from all spots on the floor as well.

    When you throw in the likes of Sasha Pavlovic, Von Wafer, and Carlos Arroyo (who recently signed with the team for the remainder of the season), the Celtics have arguably the deepest bench of any serious playoff contender.

    They can afford to run a 10-deep playoff rotation if that's what the series/game calls for. They can afford to allow their players to be aggressive, as they have ample depth to deal with foul trouble.

    Many fans have labeled Kendrick Perkins' absence in Game 7 of last year's NBA Finals as one of the main reasons they weren't able to hang on for a W. And, while this might be the case, another issue is rarely talked about: depth.

    For the whole series, the Celtics had only three big men coming off the bench. They were Glen Davis (who wasn't performing on the level he is this season), Rasheed Wallace (who played most of the playoffs with a severely strained back) and Brian Scalabrine (who wouldn't crack the Celtics rotation today).

    The C's now have four legit big men on the bench and a fifth when you count that Green can and probably will see some time at the 4.

    They also have two legitimate point guards in West and Arroyo, something they didn't have in last year's playoffs. Playing Rajon Rondo for 45 minutes a game or more is no longer a necessity.

    With all this extra roster help, the bench should be better at holding leads for extended periods of time, which subsequently gives the starters extra rest and a greater chance of finishing the game strong.

Moves Help Fix the Injury Situation and Give C's Best Chance at No. 1 Seed

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    Kendrick Perkins hasn't yet played a game for his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the result of a left knee injury suffered during his last game with Boston. His right knee was surgically repaired last offseason in more than once place, and he hadn't yet reached his previous form. Who knows if he would have this season?

    Nate Robinson is projected to miss 4-6 weeks with knee surgery, and Marquis Daniels probably won't play a game for his new team, the Sacramento Kings, after suffering a spinal cord injury this season.

    Don't think for a second that injuries didn't contribute to the Celtics making this deal.

    The C's knew of Robinson's ailments and that surgery was a definite possibility down the road. They knew of Perkins' new injury and that it could potentially hold him out for an extended period of time, but they didn't know if he could return to form so quickly after suffering a torn MCL and PCL during last year's Finals.

    If the Celtics hadn't made these moves, they'd be stuck with only one healthy legitimate bench player, Glen Davis, who would have probably moved to the starting rotation in Perkins' absence.

    That would have left the likes of Von Wafer, Avery Bradley (R) and Luke Harangody (R) to handle bench duty for the C's.

    While the Celtics have fought injuries all season long (they've never played a game with a full 15-man roster), they would be taking a huge risk had they not made the moves.

    They'd be putting an enormous amount of pressure on their starting lineup, who would likely have to consistently play extended minutes. Not only would that be detrimental to having a rested team for the playoffs, but the Celtics would be exposing them to injuries as a result of overuse.

    But now, the Celtics have the appropriate number of bodies to deal with injuries while keeping the starters fresh. They're still waiting on Shaquille O'Neal, Delonte West and Glen Davis, but neither of the three are experiencing major injuries. They could be back on the floor as soon as sometime next week, but each of their cases differ.

    And perhaps one of the most important factors in keeping this team healthy and making all the deadline moves was the chance at achieving the No. 1 seed.

    Had the Celtics not made the moves, their performance on the hardwood would have declined. Injuries and lack of bodies would have made it hard to compete on a nightly basis.

    But the Celtics are currently on a four-game win streak, and sit a full three games ahead of the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings.

    Home-court advantage is important and does play a factor in the playoffs. The C's now have a better chance of achieving that. 

More Floor Spacing for Rajon Rondo To Operate

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    The additions of Nenad Krstic, Troy Murphy and Jeff Green give the Celtics a noticeably more diverse offensive game than if they had Kendrick Perkins, Semih Erden and Marquis Daniels/Nate Robinson.

    Simply put, the Celtics have more shooters. Good news for Rajon Rondo.

    Teams often employ a unique strategy on Rondo, gambling off him and daring him to shoot while focusing more on the other four players on the floor.

    While this strategy has had varying levels of success, it has at times looked to be successful.

    However, one of the biggest drawbacks to this strategy is that it gives Rondo—one of the best passers in the NBA—clean passing lanes. 

    But now that the Celtics can afford to surround Rondo with more shooters, this strategy might become harder and harder to exercise.

    For example, Nenad Krstic has shown that he can be a successful pick-and-pop player for the Celtics, a weapon they simply didn't have at the center position with Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille O'Neal.

    The addition of Troy Murphy means that the Celtics can put both Glen Davis and Murphy on the floor at the same time. Both can shoot the ball effectively.

    More shooters on the court means better floor spacing for the Celtics. Better floor spacing means more room for Rajon Rondo to operate. More room for Rondo to operate means that the Celtics are a much better and more dangerous team offensively.   

It Is and Always Will Be the Job of the Big 4 to Bring Banner No. 18 to Boston

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    In Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics have four of the best players in the NBA and at least three future Hall of Famers.

    All four were All-Stars this season and when push comes to shove, they are the ones who lead the team emotionally and by example.

    You can talk all you want about the rest of the roster, but to a certain point, it doesn't matter. The Celtics have clearly surrounded the Big Four with enough talent to win a championship. 

    The organization and head coach can only do so much; it's up to the players to actually win the games. The onus for winning falls most heavily on those who contribute the most.

    All four men have answered the call. They've been relatively healthy, and all four are performing at arguably their highest individual level since the team's inception in 2007.

    When you have these four men on the floor healthy and working in sync, reasons for not winning are just excuses.