They never finished worse than fifth in the league in points allowed during those years, and spent two of them in the No. 1 spot for opponents' field-goal percentage.
That might all change come this fall — for three reasons.
1. The Guru is gone
Tom Thibodeau, the man credited with making the Celtics the best defense in the NBA, skipped town for a head coaching gig with the Chicago Bulls (and don't think he won't exploit his inside information on the C's when the two face each other).
Improvement on the defensive end of the floor follows the 52-year-old wherever he goes. With the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and then the Celtics, Thibs upgraded each team's defensive statistics. In 18 seasons in the NBA, in fact, the Connecticut native's teams have finished in the top 10 defensively in 15 of them.
While the C's know Thibodeau's system at this point and have Lawrence Frank, another good defensive mind, replacing him, anything after Thibs is a downgrade.
2. Perk, TA out
Kendrick Perkins, for all this struggles on the offensive end, is perhaps the best post defender in the game — about two blocks, eight rebounds per game in 2009-10 in just 28 minutes of play. He's out until January at the earliest, with Jermaine or Shaquille O'Neal spelling him.
The former, to this point in his career, has been inconsistent and lazy. The latter is maybe the worst pick-and-roll defender in the NBA — and no amount of Icy Hot patches can change the fact that the Shaqtus is now 38 years old.
The Celts' best shutdown wing defender is also gone. Tony Allen, the guy who helped Kobe Bryant to an MVP-worthy 40.5 percent field-goal mark in the Finals (I still don't understand how Pau Gasol didn't get that trophy), signed a three-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies.
His replacement? A swingman platoon of Marquis Daniels and Von Wafer. Neither can put a stop on a scorer like TA can.
If Shaq starts in place of Perk, Boston's average starter come opening night Oct. 26 will be 32.8 years old (the average dops to 31.4 if Jermaine gets the nod).
That depth of years has already begun to seep into the Green's defensive prowess. They fell from second in the NBA in points allowed in 2007-08 to third in 2008-09 to fifth in the most recent year under the auspices of the Big Three. In field-goal percentage allowed, they've jumped from 41.9 percent to 45.1 percent over that same period of time.
Add another year to the knees of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and there's little reason to believe the defense won't continue to devolve.
All that said, this not another "End is Near" piece about the aging Celtics. Boston will contend this season (in fact, they may just play and beat the Heat for the Eastern Conference title).
The replacements for both Perk and Tony, for one, are upgrades on the offensive end, and the veterans will help integrate the new-look bench into Thibodeau's defensive system. The Rockets, after all, remained a top-five defensive team after Thibs' departure from Houston in 2007.
And Garnett, the captain of Boston's defense, remains.
Still, there is little doubt that the Celtics' defense won't be what it was in 2007-08, or even in 2009-10. They'll simply have to do what they've done well of late: Find a way to win, anyway.
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