Ask hagrid: Responses
"The other night, I re-watched the '81 Eastern Conference playoffs between the Sixers and Celtics and was struck by the purity and intensity of the man to man defense played by the Celtics. The young Larry Bird was even moving his feet and staying with his man. There was no gimmicks like rushing your big man out to the top of the key to try and reverse the dribble. The switch offs on the screens were great and the weak-side help on the boards was very good.
How much different do you see the defensive scheme of the Celtics this past year versus the defense played in '81? It seems better then, than it does now, more of a well executed one-on-one. What has changed? Am I just dreaming of the glory days?"
Good question Master Po. First: YES, you are dreaming of the glory days, but I won't hold that against you. What Celtic fans have had to endure over the past decade plus, thinking of better days past every now and then is understandable.
Now, for the rest of it, in regards to what has changed, I'll just start with the summary statement: A LOT. I'm not sure whether your question is pointing to the 80-81 season or the 81-82 season (Boston played Philly in the ECF both seasons), but given that in my experience, most people refer to the year in which the playoffs were played, not the year the season started, I'll guess that you mean the 80-81 season in which we won it all (hence the glory days reference).
In terms of purity and intensity, lets begin with the fact that back then there was a much larger percentage of NBA players, not just on the Celtics, but as a whole, who actually cared about playing defense and took pride in playing it. Now, with that team, Parish and a young McHale in tow, could actually play interior defense straight up without needing their helpside counterparts constantly keeping tabs on thier man (that and they blocked shots like madmen). Larry Legend could certainly play his share of defense in the days before the back problems slowed him up. Add future Celtic coaches ML Carr and Chris Ford, along with Hall of Famer Nate "tiny" Archibald, and Celtic Legend /'81 Playoff MVP Cedric Maxwell and you've got a team that's going to be able to not only play on both ends of the floor, but you've got a core of guys right there that are known for unselfishness and leaving it all on the floor.
Defense is about trust, effort, and on-court intelligence. Larry, ML and Ford all ended up as coaches and McHale is successfully running the Timberwolves franchise. Basketball IQ wasn't short with that group and when you throw in the other intangibles mentioned, I think that makes up alot for the way they played together: Hard, Smart and Unselfishly.
Does this mean the current group of Celtic players can't achieve the same type of career and franchise success and elevate themselves to future HOFer's? Certainly not, but they've got to adopt the same type of attitude and cohesiveness that former champions possess. Guys like Paul Pierce and other veteran players need to continue to develop trust issues with their teammates, because if you feel like you can't depend on the guys playing around you, your always going to be looking around and worrying about everyone else's man, which obviously takes away from your own defensive effectiveness.
In my opinion, our defensive scheme last season had to be disrupted because of the aforementioned trust issues, etc.. The '81 team also had a much more stable lineup from night to night, including substitutions. We didn't have that this past season and that instability led to too many people trying to cover the ball and not enough people staying to home on thier man. Some players had more than a few nights where they looked like they didn't have a clue what was going on when they entered the game.
I'm not a fan of the "rushing the big man" that you mentioned. It generally occured at the top of the arc for us this past season. Bringing out big men that far in order to try a quick double team or reverse the dribble and then drop back really backfired for us on many occasions. I think the ideology of it is to try and disrupt the PG's ability to see the floor and allow the guards to try to read the passing lanes as a frustrated PG might be looking to get rid of the pass quickly. However, NBA PG's don't really rattle that easily and most kept thier composure and once the Center left to re-find his man, the PG was able to find that open man and we often ended up in odd man rushes coming at us in the paint. In those kind of situations, you're going to lose the battle 8 out of 10 times and I'd venture out to say we were close to that ratio all too often.
The introduction of the zone rules also makes life more difficult for younger players to grasp the reality that they need to personally play defense. In all team sports there can be the propensity to think "someone else will handle it" and with zone added, personal responsibility for defending is diluted even more.
In total, it's by far a better one-on-one, because back then, there were no zone options mucking up the defensive scheme. Players took pride in playing defense. The overall talent was better and there weren't as many of the seemingly underlying trust issues either. When you didn't do you job, players told you so and no one was above being benched, star or not.
I could write more on this subject, but those are just the tip(s) of the iceberg Po. Thanks for the question and sorry I don't have time to go into more detail.
Here's one from Steve:
" Without knowing what will happen with trades in the coming weeks, I was wondering how you saw the roster shaking down if the season started today?"
Seeing as I'm obviously not Nostradamus and don't have any "insider" information from Celtics brass, I can only give my best guess here.
Well, our largest positional weakness (no pun intended) is at the Center position. Unless something shakes out differently in camp, I'm truly expecting Mark (I only play hard during my contract year) Blount to not see the same kind of playing time he got last year. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to only see him in the starting lineup for a few games before Perkins or LaFrentz gets the nod at Center. Without some serious renewed effort and effectiveness by Blount, he should drop down the depth charts in short time. LaFrentz can cover the position as long as his minutes are kept reasonable and it's already been leaked that they are planning on getting Perkins in more this season to pick up the slack. Blount's obviously on notice here.
PF: Well, regardless of whether Walker is moved (and I can't see how he'll remain in Celtic green for this season) Al Jefferson is likely going to get alot more PT this season. In the short time he played last season, he was extremely effective, although still prone to defensive lapses that Doc and the staff should be working on in the off-season. Who's going to get to back him up? Well that's anyones guess, given how they choose to use Raef and newly acquired "Veal" Scalabrine, as well as any other young players that may present themselves in camp workouts.
SF and SG: Paul Pierce is the easy answer for one of these spots, depending on how Doc decides to go. My guess is that with the current compliment of new additions, I'd venture he'll play more SF, as he does have a decent post up game and rebounds well, a commodity we're always seemingly in need of. Assuming PP is the SF, his backup will likely be among the group of Gomes (again, decent post game) and Reed.
The SG compliment will be a dog fight among likely starter Ricky Davis (IMO), Tony Allen and Gerald Green (depending on his defensive progress which might be what holds his PT down this first year as he adjusts to the NBA game) and potentially West at times. Regardless, we're seemingly very solid at both these positions for years to come.
PG: No surprise, but Banks and West are the probables here assuming GP's gone. Orien Greene will likely not be a factor with PT until later in the season, as he's currently dealing with surgery and the subsequent recovery from it, which will likely cause a slow start for him.
There's a lot of stuff that can go differently with the lineup, but you asked for my opinion, so there it is. Thanks.
"Who has the better shot at having his number hang in the rafters with the greats: Pierce or Jefferson?"
Right now, that's a loaded question, since Pierce has a much bigger body of work than Jefferson does. My official answer is that there's just not enough yet from Jefferson to justify throwing this one his way. Had you asked me this question later in his career, when we've got more to judge from, then my answer might be different. However, with everything that could happen in terms of the young mans NBA future (injuries, etc.), right now it's Pierce. Jefferson, as I mentioned in an earlier question, was very effective in the PT that he got this season and if that can translate over more time, which is likely coming this season, Paul will have serious competition in respect to this question in the future.
"I apologize for the potential crudeness of this question and mean no disrespect to the player by asking it, but this has been bugging me since Draft Night 2004. It's unlikely a reporter would ever ask it, so I'll ask if you know: What is that red splotch, just south of my man Delonte West's mouth? I can't imagine I'm alone in my curiosity."
Interesting question and I have no more knowledge on the subject than you do. My best guess is that it's a birth mark and he's had it all his life. It could be epidermal discoloration from an injury or burn as well. Regardless, Delonte seems perfectly comfortable with it and obviously has the money now to get rid of it if he wanted to, so if it's cool with him, it's cool with me. Thanks.
My Own Closing Ponderance: Anyone else wonder who the Celtics would have taken on draft night if Gerald Green hadn't slipped down to us? I would love to know who was the #1 choice left on our board, had it not played out that way. Just something to think about and keep you up at night.
Thanks for the questions and keep them coming in.