There’s a piece of Ricky Bobby wisdom from the movie Talladega Nights that, while being designed for comedic purposes, does ring true in competitive sports. “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” It’s clear that the Celtics finished last season precisely where nice guys end up: last.
Gone are the days of Kendrick Perkins or Kevin Garnett, where no misgiving went unpunished. Nowadays, most NBA players embrace the camaraderie that comes with being part of the elite boys club. No one ruffles feathers anymore; it’s all handshakes and Instagram and dapping before and after games.
There’s value in having soldiers on your team, players that will create conflict. Want added value? Get yourself a couple of these warriors littered across multiple positions. Say what you want about Doc Rivers and his Clippers team of last year, but he understands the need for enforcers. The Clippers boasted both Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris--and with it came the drama--but no team looked forward to the physical side of the game against them.
Now think back to last year’s Celtics team and ask yourself, “who would be out for revenge? Who would ensure opponents didn’t bully their teammates in the paint?” It’s one thing to knock a guy down and help him back up again; it’s another to leave him there on the floor, staring into his eyes, and then step over him.
Enter Tristan Thompson, a ring-wearing veteran, who will fulfill Gandalf The Grey’s mantra “you shall not pass!”
Thompson’s addition to Boston doesn’t place them into championship contention necessarily. That’s no earth-shattering revelation. What this does, though, is give the Celtics another dimension. Not only does the Toronto native improve the team’s interior defense, but he also brings a nastiness and edge to the roster.
Teams will think twice before getting physical against Boston now, boasting a pitbull in Smart and wizard of the dark arts in Thompson. Teams around the league will no longer view the Celtics as pushovers.
“He (Thompson) just gives you a lot of options. Great Physicality, the combination of lateral mobility, strength, and motor, gives him the chance to guard a lot of people.” - Brad Stevens
Pummeling teams into submission isn’t going to be a viable winning formula. Ask Detroit or Memphis. However, the ability to go cute-or-brute is a delightful change of pace.
In Daniel Theis and Grant Williams, the Celtics have two big men capable of playing with finesse, blending their high basketball IQ with their mastery of the finer details within the game - Theis low-block seal, anyone?
There are times when finesse just won’t cut it, particularly in the playoffs. Teams can close-up shop and make you work for every touch within the paint, just as Miami did in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s times like that finals series where Boston needs a Plan B. What’s the point in knocking on the door if no one is answering? Kick that motha’ down.
“He’s a tremendous offensive rebounder, he plays very physical on offense, he’s good with dribble hand-off’s and he’s good with fakes. And I think he will continue to improve in those areas, and I hope that our wings with all the attention they draw, will open up opportunities for him as well.” - Brad Stevens
What’s clear now is that Boston has taken steps to absolve their “nice-guy” image. Embracing the rough-and-tumble, win-at-all-costs mentality that Smart and Thompson bring to the table ensures there will be no comfortable nights once the season resumes.
“You see it with Marcus Smart from Day 1. He’s a dog. He brings it at the guard position. That’s what I do at the big position. I’m going to bring it every day. As Big Perk (Kendrick Perkins) would say ‘Bring that wood!’ That’s what I do.” - Tristan Thompson
The Celtics roster now possesses the chemistry that championship teams are comprised of, with Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker their All-Stars, Jaylen Brown on the superstar precipice, some young yet valuable role players, and two fearsome enforcers.
A ring is unlikely to come to fruition this year; there’s still a lot of internal development we’re yet to witness. However, there’s a viable blueprint from historical championship teams, and as the new season draws near, the Celtics are finally built in that image.