There's a classic NBA adage that goes a little something like this:
"Offense may sell tickets, but defense wins championships"
Never before has this been more true in the NBA, despite all of the hype about the high-powered, hot-shot offenses that have permeated the league as of late.
It's what won the Celtics the NBA championship in 2008 and what allowed them to beat the Eastern Conference playoffs' more offensively-skilled teams and reach the finals last June before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.
It is also arguably what cost the Celtics Game 7 of the finals in 2010 as well, as Boston was without center Kendrick Perkins, who went down in Game 6 with a devastating knee injury. The Celtics were outrebounded by the Lakers 53-40 in the deciding game of the series, and it has been speculated that if Perkins had been available for play, the finals would have ended far differently.
Fast forward to April 2011. The No. 3 seed Celtics are preparing to make another run toward Banner No. 18 and await an opening-round matchup against the No. 7 New York Knicks.
The previously horribly unwatchable Knicks, rejuvenated by the acquisition of superstars Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, along with playoff veteran Chauncey Billups, are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Knicks have become known for the sort of offense that gives opposing coaches and players fits, as New York averages 106.6 points per game, second-best in the league.
They will have to face a Boston team that sports the league's best defense, giving up an average of only 91.0 points per game.
Despite the loss of Perkins, the Celts still have a tough interior defense anchored by Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis, Shaquille O'Neal (when he's healthy) and the increasingly physical Nenad Krstic. Their ability to prevent opponents from driving to the hoop forces teams to shoot from the outside, and for some teams, this is more than enough of a weakness for the Celtics to capitalize on and convert stops into points at the other end.
The problem with facing the Knicks, however, is that their very strength is outside shooting. For the Celtics to defeat New York and advance to the conference semifinals, they will need to shut down Carmelo and Amar'e by any means possible.
This means forcing them to drive to the hoops and allow KG and Big Baby to take over.
If Shaq can get healthy and Jermaine O'Neal can look alive and stay tough, the Celtics can cause problems for the Knicks, as Boston has a huge size advantage over New York.
Once the Celtics can limit the Knicks on defense, they have to be able to convert on offense. Rajon Rondo has been criticized as of late for his inconsistent play at the point; he'll need to settle down and stay focused.
The Knicks may not play very much defense, giving up over 105 points on average per game, but that's no excuse for Boston to get sloppy when they have the ball. If Rondo can execute efficiently, the Celtics will have no problem dismantling the Knicks and scoring points.
Finally, for the Celtics to win this series (and any subsequent series they play), they have to put their late-season woes behind them.
Yes, the loss of Perk hurt a lot of guys and may be a detriment to this team, but they need to focus on winning the guys they have. No more blaming Danny Ainge; it's time to take responsibility for their play and go out and compete with all that they've got.
If they can stay hungry and refuse to give up, they'll do just fine.