Let’s just get this myth out of the way: It’s not about Kendrick Perkins.
Would Perkins help Boston right now? Damn straight. Would I have made that deal? No. Has Danny Ainge set himself up as a scapegoat? Yup. And he might want to think about spending the summer outside the city if Boston doesn’t win it all.
But the Celtics essentially played this entire season without Kendrick Perkins in the lineup, not the healthy one doing so well in Oklahoma anyway. Even without him they were as good as or better than any team in the league for considerable stretches. It’s not about what they don’t have, it’s about what they have.
The reality — what the numbers bear out — is that their big four of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett can be paired with just about anyone and be a success. They could throw out 76-year-old Tommy Heinsohn with the big four and probably still win 47 games.
But for the Celtics it’s not about winning games, it’s about banner number 18.
For that to happen, three things have to happen first.
One, the Rajon Rondo that was an assist machine has to return. They don’t need the one that is passing less and shooting more. Teams continue to play off Rondo, but early in the season he used that space to create passing angles, to set up teammates. Of late we’ve seen a lot of Rondo and Glen Davis jumpers. There needs to be less of that and more Ray Allen and Paul Pierce jumpers.
And you’ll see that for sure. Rondo is smart, he knows what works. He knows in the playoffs what needs to be done, and that he is the catalyst for the Boston offense.
The second thing that has to happen is a return to the Celtics stifling defense. It has not been the same lately as the Celtics seemed to once again cruise into the finish line of the regular season.
Boston’s defense is good enough to close down the Knicks pretty quickly, if they bring their best game. If they get Carmelo Anthony into wing isolations, if they shot down the pick-and-roll, if they control the tempo. Again, all things Boston knows how to do and as done for years. Expect to see the frenetic effort return to the Celtics defense.
Finally, there is Shaquille O’Neal. And he is the real wild card.
While Heinsohn might do well with the Boston’s big four, it is Shaq that made them sing — when Shaq was on the floor with them it was the second best five-man unit in the league this season. Shaq could score in the paint, and that opened up better perimeter looks for Pierce and Allen. The Celtics offense was a force.
Shaq’s commitment to defense has long been a question mark, and it couldn’t be in the playoffs. He would have to be controlling the paint, cutting off penetration and making smart plays on the pick-and-roll from the start. Well, maybe not the start against the Knicks, Boston would win that series anyway. But against Miami and Chicago, Boston needs an energetic Shaq for 20 minutes a game. Combine that Shaq with Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic and you’ve got something.
Boston needs to get around 40 quality minutes a night out of its center by committee, and Shaq needs to be part of it. Do that and Boston can certainly win it all.
The question is will that be too much to ask of the O’Neals?