Center Stage: Playoff Edition
Posted by Hayes Davenport on May 8, 2011
Quick rundown on the most volatile spot on the floor for the Celtics over the last three games, focusing on the win of yesterday. The center position is now split between four different players (Nenad Krstic has departed the rotation), with varying results production-wise. Let’s start with:
Jermaine O’Neal: It’s eternally frustrating that Jermaine O’Neal can only manage twenty-and-change minutes per game. Understand this, if nothing else: Jermaine has not had a negative plus/minus in any of the three games played so far. He was plus-2 in the series opener, totally even in a Game 2 blowout, and well into positive territory like all the other starters in Game 3. But it’s Game 2 that really deserves attention: O’Neal spent almost all of his court time with the starters, who averaged about a -10 for that game. Meanwhile, most of the bench players were in positive territory, except for Glen Davis who was a minus-14. That means that the scoring difference in the game took place in the fifteen-odd minutes when Davis played with the starters instead of JO.
Even with minimal offensive production, Jermaine O’Neal is absolutely an asset to this team. He’s an extremely rare defender in that he’s just as likely to go up for a block as take a charge. He does both expertly: when he contests under the rim, he always jumps straight up and focuses on disrupting the shooter’s momentum rather than swatting the ball, and he falls straight back when he’s going for the foul, not easy to do when you’re as big as he is. Any measures that could extend Jermaine’s minutes without sacrificing his production too much should be explored post-haste, including voodoo.
We get into Shaq, Glen Davis, and finally the team’s best center after the jump.
Shaquille O’Neal: “Just wait,” we all told ourselves. “Shaq’s hitting the weight room every day. He’s slimming down, getting his strength back. Next time we see him in a game, he’s going to be the old Shaq. You’ll see. You’ll all see.”
Well, we weren’t totally wrong. Except he’s just old Shaq, not the old Shaq. The most lasting image of this series might actually be the first time a player has ever vomited from exhaustion all over the court, because Shaq definitely didn’t look like he was far off last night.
But he was tired because he was playing very hard. He showed on screens, jumped out to confront drivers from the perimeter, and shoved the crap out of everyone around under both baskets. And that’s his value. Shaq’s body is a disruptive force even at age 39, and it will be long after he dies in Game 6. Against an undersized team like Miami especially, Shaq changes the game, and his contribution to the win last night shouldn’t be underestimated.
Glen Davis: I’m ecstatic to report that Glen Davis is not a center anymore. It was widely presupposed that Shaq’s return would mean less playing time for Glen Davis, and all the presupposers were right. Davis played only 11 minutes last night, down from 26 in Game 2, and 8.5 of them were with Shaq on the court, making Davis a power forward. But Glen’s minutes reduction was really the result of a performance reduction as much as anything else. Davis had seen the Heat outscore the Celtics by 35 points in the 49 minutes he’d played in the first two games, hurling himself into the depths of Plus/Minus Hell. Combine that with 4-12 shooting and only six rebounds, and Glen had a horrible Miami vacation.
Accordingly, Glen didn’t play much last night, but when he did he had moments of actual excellence. Like, for example, when he pulled down four rebounds in one minute early in the fourth. I know what you’re thinking: when Glen Davis gets multiple boards in quick succession, it’s because he went up for a layup and had the ball handed back to him a bunch of times by shotblockers. But these were on four consecutive possessions, two defensive and two offensive, and none were on his own shots. Sure, those were his only boards of the evening, but he ended up with as many as the O’Neal brothers got in almost three times the minutes.
Even more encouraging was the limited usage for Glen: only one attempt. Most scientists agree that the low point of Game 2 and possibly human civilization was when three crucial late-game possessions in a row went to Glen Davis for aborted jump shots and layups. No such problem tonight: Doc sent Davis to get the ball on the boards and give it to somebody else. This opens up questions about Glen’s role: he’s not generally a great rebounder, and he’s at best an average defender, so if he’s not scoring then he’s mostly on the court to fill space. And “space-filler” does not a free-agent signee make.
Kevin Garnett: The preceding three Celtics only combined for about 33 minutes at center last night, leaving the last 15 for Kevin Garnett, who won the game from this position. We’ve explored Garnett’s potential as a pivot before, concluding that he’s not much help in that capacity because of how far he’s drifted from the basket on offense in the last three years. But look at that shot chart. When Garnett matched up with Joel Anthony, he carved him to ribbons. Please peruse immediately Kevin Arnovitz’s analysis of KG’s scoring over at the Heat Index. Then do everything in your power to make sure he does it again, including voodoo.