For the last few seasons, lack of size in the front court and low rebounding numbers have been known to most fans as the main contributor for the Celtics being eliminated in the playoffs the last two years. No question that being out-rebounded on a nightly basis will have an effect on if you win or lose a game, but seeing what happened last season and from some of my own personal observations, maybe it’s possible to win a championship without a center.
In last season’s NBA Finals, the Miami Heat were able to do what most teams have never done before, win without having a legitimate center. With a team consisting of Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade, having a center may not be necessary in their case. But I heard a few times during the year that Miami couldn’t win without height.
If we take a look at their opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t have a dominant center or much size at all either. The Thunder relied upon athleticism and the high percentage jump shooting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. You can always make a case that they had Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, but Perkins wasn’t a huge factor in that series, and I see Ibaka as a very athletic power forward.
From what I have seen, the NBA has evolved drastically in the last five to ten years. Athleticism has become the new force that has dominated the game. The Thunder, Heat, Hawks, and even the Chicago Bulls, have thrived without a dominant center, albeit, most of these teams haven’t won a championship, but they seem to knock off or give a lot of trouble to teams who have height.
Watching the Thunder play and make it to the Finals this season has completely changed my view on the idea of having a true center. On their journey through the playoffs, the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers who had Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and then defeated Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. You can tell me that the Lakers weren’t as deep as they’ve been in years previous, but they had the size to give the Thunder a lot of problems in the paint. The Spurs had won eight straight before facing the smaller Thunder team. They were also favored by some ESPN analysts, but again, their chance at another title was robbed by a younger and more athletic team
Is size really that important for winning a title? Maybe not, and if it is, its been exaggerated to a certain extent. For the older generation of Celtics fans, the championship teams of 1974 and 1976 won without having a lot of size. Dave Cowens had to cover Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was nearly 5 inches taller, during the entire series of the Finals in 1974. How did Boston pull off this matchup and take care of their lack of size problem? By running the fast break and double-teaming Kareem when he got the ball. Celtic great Tommy Heinsohn’s philosophy to winning was quickness. If you can beat the other team up and down the floor on most possessions size doesn’t mean much.
But how does this all tie in to the 2012 Boston Celtics team? The Celtics have built up a roster that has combined youth with experience. Rajon Rondo is a point guard who likes to run the fast break. Surrounding him with players like Avery Bradley, Chris Wilcox, Courtney Lee, and Jeff Green will allow him to speed up the offense which will lead to easier buckets in transition. The team has also improved athletically as well, which to me is important if they want to beat the younger teams during the season and in the playoffs.
Don’t get me wrong, size and having a real center is extremely important, and I’d love to see the Celtics sign a big man. But is the need dire enough that our championship chances depend on it? We’ll have to see how it plays out.
In recent Celtics history, the championship team of 2008 didn’t play with much size when they faced the Los Angeles Lakers. Most of the time, Kevin Garnett had played center while James Posey played power forward. After watching a few games from that title run, I noticed the Celtics pushed the tempo much more than they do now. Throughout the Big Three era, the Celtics have never really been deep or had great size in the front court. Behind Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe and Glen Davis were heavily relied upon.
This year, when facing teams like Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the Celtics will have to take away their size advantage. They have to do what has worked in the past. Run in transition, do a lot better boxing out, and double-team if necessary. However, that game plan will have to be altered when facing the Lakers.
Again, I would like to see the Celtics improve in size and add another center, but if they can’t, they’ll just have to play like they have the last few seasons. Remember, the Celtics took the Miami Heat to seven games, and that was without Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Chris Wilcox and a legitimate center. If they can stay healthy this season, no doubt the Celtics could go back to the Finals. With the draft picks Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger, maybe our answer to our rebounding problem is already on the roster.