Will this all come down to Shaq? Is he the key to Boston’s playoff success? To their title hopes? To their interior physicality? To enforcing the “no layup rule” Kendrick Perkins has already brought with him to Oklahoma City? To defending Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Joakim Noah? Is anybody else petrified of this possibility?
“It’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer,” Rivers said of whether his team can bring back the Perkins element to their game without the big guy, himself. “I really don’t. We don’t have Shaq (O’Neal) yet. We get that when he’s on the floor. But we don’t have him or (Jermaine O’Neal). Perk is a menacing-looking dude. Last night he was tossing bodies left to right. It was awesome. That’s just who Perk is.”
Nenad Krstic started his Celtics career like Perk would hardly be missed. After one game early in the Krstic era, my buddy (who’s actually quite knowledgeable about all things basketball) texted me, “I’m not overreacting, I swear. But isn’t Krstic a poor man’s Kevin McHale, only if McHale looked like a seven-foot Luigi (editor’s note: from Mario Bros.)?” Yes, definitely!… if by poor man’s Kevin McHale, you mean “please, don’t ever let me insult Kevin McHale like this again.”
In reality, Krstic is what we thought he was—a tall, mustached, talented offensive player who lacks the physical edge to intimidate anyone, or even to stop most opponents from scoring. Krstic has played 13 games for the Celtics. In that time, I can remember him allowing quite a few dunks. But I don’t remember a single time he gave a hard foul. Not once. Maybe I’m forgetting something, maybe not. The point is, Krstic doesn’t provide the type of interior toughness the Celtics will need come playoff time—with Krstic in the starting lineup, the lineup allows more points per possession than with any other center. Krstic can still help, because he can play. But I don’t feel comfortable with Krstic playing starter’s minutes.
Maybe I’m worrying too much about Krstic. As Doc Rivers has repeatedly shown this season, Glen Davis will finish most games. And Davis will play defense. The Celtics’ defense is actually significantly better when Davis (rather than Krstic, Perkins or Shaq) joins the Fab Four. Davis will throw his 300-pound body around, he’ll take charges, and he’ll provide the type of presence Krstic won’t (can’t?). He has even shown he can do a nice job on Dwight Howard, using his low center of gravity (that’s a euphemism for, “He’s fat, guys”) to force Howard into tough shots. But if the C’s play the Lakers (who are suddenly steam-rolling their way through the NBA), Davis’ lack of length could prove troublesome. Which is why the Celtics could need Shaq.
Unfortunately, Shaq hasn’t played since the day before Groundhog’s Day, and has only played 36 games this season. He was initially out “day-to-day”, but that turned into “he’ll be back in a week,” which turned into “he’ll be back in another week,” which turned into “just one more week, guys,” which turned into “he’s out indefinitely,” which has now turned into “he might return tonight, but really, we have no flipping idea.”
Initially, nobody seemed concerned. When asked about Shaq’s injury shortly after February 1, Doc laughed. “He’s old,” he said. Now, Doc’s tune has changed. “Obviously,” he said two days ago, “the clock is ticking with Shaq and J.O.”
Shaq himself admitted to some trepidation. “You get nervous? Yeah, a little bit,” he said. Though calling his return “real close” and saying he would return this season no matter what, Shaq added a qualifier: “even if I have to shoot it up.” I don’t know about you guys, but the words “even if I have to shoot it up” don’t exactly sound reassuring.
Anything less than an NBA championship this year would be a failure. And even though Glen Davis is Boston’s Stone Cold Stunner—err, their finisher—I still wonder whether Shaq’s health is essential; and the possibility that it is scares me far more than Paranormal Activity 2 did.
Pray for health, I guess.