The Boston Celtics and the Keys for Winning Banner No. 18

Andrew LongworthCorrespondent IApril 4, 2011

The Boston Celtics and the Keys for Winning Banner No. 18

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Following the trade of Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Celtics fans were united in their disgust. Supposedly this was a gaffe of epic proportions, a whopper of a blunder the city had not witnessed since the commencement of the Big Dig or a ball trickling through a certain first baseman’s legs.

    Almost out of spite, the Celtics went on to win five out of six games to temporarily silence the wrath of the Gang Green faithful.

    This turned out to be an aberration, as Boston since has gone 7-8 down the stretch, their chances at the top seed and home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs all but evaporated.

    Losses to perennial lottery draft pick contenders like the Nets, Bobcats and the Clippers cranked up the volume of the front office’s critics exponentially, leaving GM Danny Ainge to wonder whether he had just traded the Freedom Trail.

    The Boston Celtics went through a similar funk last season, although a spirited playoff run would find them only one win and five points short of another championship. This year, the Celtics still have the right horses in the stable to win coveted No. 18, although their recent sluggish performances suggest the barn may be running out of hay. These are the adjustments the Celtics will have to make to compete for this year’s NBA title.

Rebounding

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Before Sunday’s win against the Pistons at home, the Boston Celtics had won the battle of the boards once in its previous 10 games, matches that included the high powered rebounding machines of the Pacers, the Bobcats and the Timberwolves (minus Kevin Love, no less).

    The only significant board the Celtics received during this stretch would be the proverbial board to the head once they again saw themselves on the losing end of things.

    The regular season tends to be a little more forgiving if you lose supremacy in the paint. In the playoffs, a loss at the battle of the backboard frequently translates to a loss on the scoreboard.

    Granted, too many players have lost too many games to injuries.

    That said, the Celtics are well aware that they could run five players out there on crutches and the mercy they will receive from their opponents will be less than a bleeding rat can expect amidst a school of piranhas. That only means that more will be required of…

The New Additions

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    Doc Rivers and Jeff GreenElsa/Getty Images

    Much to the chagrin of the Perkins backers, the new guys have blissfully underachieved.

    Jeff Green’s point, assist and rebound totals have been cut in half, which does not bode well for an ailing bench.

    6’11” Troy Murphy has been a no-show even during the handful of minutes he’s been allowed on the floor.

    Perkins’ replacement Nenad Krstic showed some promise in the 18 games he’s started along with some much needed muscle in fishing balls off the glass. Too bad he's been lost to injury, forcing a hapless Glenn Davis into the center roll.

    Not that the new additions that arrived before the season started were any help.

    Pavlovic’s average eight minutes have brought 0.8 rebounds and 0.7 points, garbage numbers for a player conceivably playing garbage minutes.

    The bench has been dreadful since the Celts lost their version of the microwave, Nate Robinson, in the Thunder deal as well. Although he had a difficult time spelling Rondo as a starter when the latter went down with an injury months ago, it is undeniable he provided that spark off the bench and the quality minutes the substitutes now sorely lack.

    Boston, Seattle and Cleveland have waited the past six years to see Delonte West fulfill his potential, and now it’s Boston’s time to wait again. He will need to step it up if the Celtics are to avoid too many minutes from their starting five.

    Of course, the most brutal afflictions to strike the Boston Celtics have targeted one man in particular, the guy playing…

Center

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Here the Celtics could place a Gatorade barrel to play center, and the fans would not be in the least surprised if they saw it on crutches the next day.

    The Big Man curse has been absolutely brutal to the Celtics.

    Both O’Neal’s, new arrivals and replacements for injured Center Perkins when the season started, turned into O’Nills each time they would hit the DL. Not that their productivity reminded anyone at the New Garden of Russell, Cowens or Parrish in their prime, but at least there was that presence, the size so badly needed to fend off the Dwight Howards and Amar'e Stoudemires at least for a while.

    With Glenn Davis thrust into that roll, the Celtics lack both height among their starting five, not to mention more quality minutes from what was once a solid bench.

    With Krstic now joining his fellow big men on the invalid list, the Celtics must wonder just what the answer is at the five spot.

    To Celtics fans, this has quickly ballooned into a curse only the cross-town Fenway Faithful can relate to.

    The question that now remains is whether the remaining Celtics, in particular the centers, have that one intangible that Boston sports fans have showcased so long, the all-important ingredient of…

Toughness

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    Kendrick PerkinsRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    You could make a strong case that in terms of skill and mobility, Perkins was very much the fifth wheel on an offense led by the Big Three who eventually became the Big Four with the emerging brilliant point play of Rajon Rondo.

    As far as toughness went, you could make an even stronger case that Perkins stood alone as the force that drove the wheels of the Green Machine whenever it threatened to sputter or the tires happened to soften.

    There was something priceless about the middle being clogged up by No. 43, a snarling mountain of a man just waiting to stomp you into the paint or re-arrange your grille with a forearm shiver.

    Hard to imagine who will fill that hole now when facing the likes of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, possible finals opponents, should it happen.

    The fact that all centers have lost time to injury is unfortunate but also raises questions about the overall sturdiness of this bunch. While some absences arguably burn more than others, the Celtics will have to ensure that none happen that could jeopardize the team…

Defense

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    Give the Celtics credit here. When they go into lockdown mode, the defense can block out the sun from finding breathing room on the perimeter.

    The Celtics still own the blueprint on how to play team defense, something that has been instilled by Doc Rivers into everybody from the players to the security guards patrolling the TD Garden.   

    The defense is absolutely pivotal to the team’s identity and their mentality, let alone their chances of adding a banner to the famed Garden’s rafters.

    When the offense goes into one of its dreadful funks—the Celtics still blow too many double digit leads—it will then have to be the defense that can stem the tide, the same defense that was the rock of the 2008 team and is the rock three years later.

    This is the defense that finds Garnett guarding everything from centers to point guards to nor’easters. The defense that saw Pierce decisively shut down Kobe in the crucial Game 4 of the 2008 Finals in Los Angeles. The stifling team defense that creates more turnovers than the bakers at Finale's on Columbus Avenue. 

    In order to maintain the defense, the players must remain healthy. The Celtics need not be reminded of what happens if a Kevin Garnett (2009 playoffs) misses multiple games, let alone a playoff series.

    It is with their best and only with their best that the Celtics can make another title run.

    Failing to do so will only invite more debates about Kendrick Perkins, along with more unwelcome guests: The would haves and their cousins, the could haves, arguing ad nauseam how they should have kept him.