Kendrick Perkins is gone, but the sky isn’t falling for Boston’s defense. Even with only one true center (if Nenad Krstic even qualifies) in the rotation, the Celtics have posted two fantastic defensive performances in a row, holding both the Grizzlies and the Knicks to under 97 points per 100 possessions. That’s a remarkable level of defensive dominance, and while the Celtics haven’t fared so well on the other side of the ball, those struggles are far too complex to be attributed to Perkins’ absence.
However, if there’s one enduring concern about Boston’s ability to execute defensively, it’s that the size just isn’t there on the front line. That’s about to change; Shaquille O’Neal is expected to return to the court by April 1st, and according to a report from the Boston Herald, Jermaine O’Neal is on a similar timeline (via CelticsHub):
Jermaine O’Neal’s recovery from knee surgery has taken a big step, according to Danny Ainge. The Celtics’ president of basketball operations watched his recuperating center work out in Chicago this morning, and later said that O’Neal’s return to the team appears to be on schedule. “It could be next week, which is about what we hoped for – the end of the month,” said Ainge. “He looks good. I watched him go through his workouts.”
The most encouraging news, according to Ainge, is that O’Neal has been able to work out for approximately three weeks without swelling. In addition to working out with a trainer, the center has been playing 1-ob-1 basketball. “That’s always the challenge,” said Ainge. “He’s been working out for that long without swelling, which is a big consideration.”
O’Neal also lost approximately 12 pounds during his rehabilitation.
That last note is important. O’Neal hasn’t exactly been the most mobile big around over his last two seasons, and a slighter frame should help his ability to rotate and, more importantly, stay healthy.
It should be interesting to see what exactly becomes of Krstic upon the return of both O’Neals. Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t logging serious minutes even when healthy, but he’s a better defender than Krstic and a comparable mid-range shooter. Assuming Shaq eventually slides into a starting role and plays around 20 minutes a night (his season average), and that Glen Davis gets some run at the 5, there likely won’t be room in the rotation for both O’Neal and Krstic to play regular minutes. O’Neal’s health and rust could end up which player functions as the primary back-up at center, but regardless, his return to the active roster gives Doc Rivers another strong interior defender to throw at any opposing big who gives the Celtics trouble.