Defense is going to be key if this team is going to win a championship. Pierce and Garnett agree that this has to be the focus of the team. From the Herald:
“I think our whole focus is going to be on the defensive end,” said Pierce, as Garnett nodded his head. “We have so many weapons on offense, and the great thing about it is we play unselfishly. We were able to move the ball.
Championship teams play great defense. Teams that don't play defense don't make it to the finals. Last night in many cases, the Raptors seemed to be too open.
One of the keys to the Celtics defense is going to be Kendrick Perkins. Also from the Herald:
But Kendrick Perkins [stats] returned to the game in the second quarter after three quick fouls and a seat in the first, and the defensive intensity seemed to pick up.
Perk takes defense very seriously and it shows. In spite of being perfect on offense last night (2-2 from the field and 4-4 from the line, Perk's biggest value is going to be on the defensive end.
One of the things that Perk does very well is setting screens. The Globe has an article that talks about setting screens and what makes Perk so good at it.
In the NBA, setting the perfect screen requires commitment and self-sacrifice. Executed at the highest level, the skill demands that the biggest men on the court stand in the path of opposing guards and small forwards, freeing teammates for shots. Without a screen setter like the Celtics' Kendrick Perkins, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen would be endlessly harassed on offense, looking at obstructed views of the basket. With Perkins, opposing players are often left wondering what hit them. The answer is a 6-foot-10inch, 280-pound center who craves contact. Throughout the season, Perkins has bruises on his arms and chest to prove it, reminders of all the elbows, shoulders, and heads that have collided with his body. "Learning how to set a screen is just giving up your body," he says. "It's like setting a block in football. I'll try to go down and really take somebody's head off with my screens. If I set a good screen and, ka-boom, make somebody's neck jump, I love that." Perkins estimates he sets some kind of screen on every Celtics possession, which can translate to roughly 40 per game. When he sets a screen for Pierce, Perkins singles out Pierce's defender from the moment the Celtics bring the ball up court. Next, Perkins sizes up the angles at play, asking himself where and how he can intersect the defender for a solid hit. After four seasons together, the two rely on an intuitive sense of timing. Pierce must make sure Perkins stands set in the proper place before he makes a run that will force his defender into the Celtics' center. If poor positioning and poor timing occur, the defender can more easily get around Perkins and increase the odds of an offensive foul. But when they're in synch, each player boosts the other. "With me setting the screen and Paul hitting the shot," Perkins says, "I feel like I hit the shot because I got him open."
Many times last season, Perk would set a pick only to have one of the players out of position and he would end up being called for a foul. I expect this season, playing with KG, Pierce and Ray Allen, he will be very efficient at setting screens and this will be very important to the team.
Along with Perk, we have very good defensive players in Rondo, Tony Allen, KG, Leon Powe, James Posey and Brandon Wallace. Danny also took a step in the right direction by bringing in defensive guru Tom Thibodeau as an assistant. Thibodeau has done a great job building defensive teams in New York and Houston. From Fabio's report from Rome, it sounds as if Doc is letting Thibodeau handle the defense and that is a good thing.
The first part of Thursday’s workout was devoted to defense, as usual. Tom Thibodeau kept yelling to get the players on the same page, and the group seemed to take his words very seriously. After Thibodeau completed his task, Rivers had the teams play five on five.
A commitment to defense by both players and coaches is going to be necessary is this team is to reach their peak. Everything starts on the defensive end. Good defense will key the offense. Players like Perk, Posey, Rondo and KG have always been all about defense. It seems as though their defensive mindset is catching. From Peter Stringer's blog:
But just as the attention off the court has loosened up, so will the pressure on the court. And now that he won't have to carry the load on offense every night, Pierce plans to pout more effort into his defense. "I put so much energy into scoring and rebounding in past years that I just did have the energy to be the type of defender that I know I can be," said Pierce. "That's going to be my focus this year, to show people I can defend on a high level against anyone in the NBA."
It is good to hear Pierce talk about making a commitment to defense this season and hopefully he will follow through on it. Pierce has always been capable of playing good defense but often didn't put out the effort needed to do so. Championship #17 will be won on the defensive end of the court and I believe we now have the pieces in place to do it.