I wrote an article last week on how the "Big 4" of KG, Rondo, Pierce and Allen have performed against the best teams in the league this year, and in the comments section one poster called me out for not mentioning Perk. My response at the time was that Perk had only played a handful of games, and that since he was only one out of four centers that had started for the Cs this year it was impossible to do a legit stat breakdown on any one of the centers like I did on the other starters. And that's still true.
But, after last night's loss to the Lakers, I thought this a good time to point out exactly what a healthy Kendrick Perkins, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and/or Semih Erden gives us: our linemen (be prepared...a LOT of football analogy ahead).
The "Big 4" are our skill position guys. Rondo is the quarterback on offense and a risk-taking free safety on defense...call him Tom Polamalu.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are the wide receivers on offense, while on defense they are the cornerbacks. Pierce is more of the big receiver that can go across the middle or take it deep at any moment...call him Andre Johnson, while Allen is more artistic and the permanent home run threat from the outside...a more professional Randy Moss.
Kevin Garnett is our middle linebacker on defense, and the great blocking/ground-eating running back on offense. Like Ray Lewis mixed with Emmit Smith.
But here's the thing...none of our skill position stalwarts, no matter how good they are, can do their things without the big bodies in the trenches. And you don't have to look any further than last night to see it.
Despite missing 3 of our 4 lineman, we were okay early because Perk was there and fresh and could keep our skill guys' jerseys clean. Celtics are up 15 in the 2nd quarter, Allen is making record-setting 3s, life is good. But Perk is still working himself back into shape and wore down...and Baby is about 5 inches too short to be consistently effective in the trenches against the Lakers...
...and suddenly, Brady is having trouble finding an open man before the defense shuts us down. Without the lineman their to stunt, Smith can't find any holes to run through in the middle and instead is forced to break it outside...where the opponent's speed keeps him bottled up. The opponents' DBs, knowing their defensive line is wearing down the depleted O-line, can afford to play ultra-tight press coverage on Moss and Johnson so they can't get off. Despite 4 superstars, our offense stagnates. But what about defensively?
Defensively, our all-world linebacker Ray Lewis still has 11 tackles (rebounds). But when the defensive line is keeping the opposing offensive line off of him, Lewis can choose the tackles to make the most impact. Instead, when our D-line can't do anything, the opponent can run up the middle at will. Lewis still gets his tackles, but now he's also got bodies on him clogging up the area, preventing him from making enough stops to really slow the opponent. Polamalu can't afford to take big-play risks, because he's needed to help plug the holes in the line. And our cornerbacks are left on an island for too long, meaning they're getting burnt by the opponent's big play wideouts.
I took this football analogy way further than I intended to when I started writing, but hopefully I didn't lose you all. When a football game is over and you look at the box scores, you aren't going to read much about the guard that kept Tom Brady clean or the defensive tackle that kept the opposing guards off of Ray Lewis. But if you talk to Brady and Lewis, they'd be the first to tell you that the only reason they can do what they do is because the big uglies are there to take care of them. Perk, Shaq, Jermaine (hopefully), and Semih are our big uglies. And when they are weakened or out, the effect is very clear on the floor.
Get well soon, big guys. We need you.