With only eight games remaining in the regular season, current starting center Nenad Krstic buckled his own knee while on offense in last night’s win over the Spurs, and the injury woes of Boston’s big men are worse than ever. Krstic has started all of his eighteen games for Boston and was the only true center on the team for each of those games.
Luckily, Jermaine O’Neal returned last night in his first game since January, chipping in eleven decent minutes, but without the dominant defensive presence he will need to have for a successful Celtics’ playoff run. With Shaq’s return forever seeming just a few games away, the trading of Kendrick Perkins and frequent injuries to Boston’s big men have destroyed the dominant inside presence they once had.
Krstic is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday, and likely will not return until Tuesday’s game against the 76ers at the earliest. That means that when the Celtics take on the Atlanta Hawks tonight and the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, it will be up to 6’9 Glen “Big Baby” Davis to stop their respective young and explosive centers, Al Horford and Greg Monroe.
Boston will continue to use J.O. off the bench, in hopes that he will not reinjure his knee before the start of the postseason. Davis will need to revert back to playing like a big man instead of constantly relying on his jump shot, and Jeff Green will also have to play a larger presence in the paint instead of his typical role as a talented oversized back up wingman to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The Celtics still have a lot of scoring ability, and with his double-double last night, Rondo seems to be back in stride. Therefore, Boston needs Green and Davis to step up and play the roles of glass crashing big men rather than jump shooters... We have the Big Three for that.
I still believe a successful playoff run is possible, especially if additional injuries can be avoided. If both O’Neals and Krstic can be somewhat healthy come playoff time, the combination of these three will result in solid minutes at the center position, as each of them brings physicality and their own style of play to the court. Even if (the corpse of) Troy Murphy returns, I believe he too could get caught up in the emotional playoff environment the Celtics always create, and effectively use the rebounding and scoring ability he was once praised for, similar to the way Leon Powe did against the Celtics last week. If Boston can simply turn it on like they did last night and last season in the playoffs, the Big Four scorers and the big three centers, if healthy, could absolutely still help propel the Celtics back to the NBA Finals.