Chicks Dig Defense

Ryan Thomas

When the Celtics played the Phoenix Suns at the Garden a couple weeks ago, Kevin Garnett was at the line shooting two.

The game was in waning minutes; the Celtics had toppled two-time MVP Steve Nash and the Big Bench Warmer, Shaquille O’Neal.

The lull in game action gave Celtics fans a chance to express their feelings, as chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” echoed throughout the building.

After Garnett’s 30-point, six-assist effort, he deflected MVP praise and consideration to the captain, Paul Pierce. The Truth had to tell it though.

In Marc J. Spears’ game story, Pierce said, “[t]he whole face of Celtics Nation turned around when the trade happened with this guy.

“Everyone talks about the MVP and they talk about numbers, but this guy has changed the whole culture around here, and I think that says a lot for everything. The mentality, to a day-to-day aspect, everything is changed from a year ago.”

All by themselves, Garnett’s 19.0 ppg, 9.4 rpg and 3.5 apg can be considered MVP worthy. And it’s funny that, after an injury sidelined him for nine games, KG’s name was suddenly lost in the MVP talks and all attention once again centered around Kobe, Chris Paul and LeBron.

Moving on.

Garnett may not have flashy 50-point or 15-assist games, he may not “take over” a game the way SportsCenter and ESPN lust after and he may not have a nickname like “The King,” “CP3,” or “The Black Mamba,” but what he lacks in nicknames he makes up for with stats that would make any mathlete salivate; stats that prove that he is the true MVP of a league dominated by offense, one-man wrecking crews, slam dunks and ally-oops.

Looking past the 19 and 9 Garnett averages nightly, you only need to look as far as defensive ranks of the Celtics to see where his presence is truly felt.

Last season, the Celtics defense looked like a turnstile at the entrance of an old MBTA Station. They couldn’t get stops (99.2 points per game allowed, 18th), they couldn’t contest shots (46.8 field goal percentage against, 20th) and they couldn’t get in passing lanes (22.1 assists per game against, 22nd). There’s more, but I won’t pick nits and bore.

Anyone who watched the Celtics last year (I was one of the loyal) knows that Tommy Heinson and Mike Gorman, who are broadcasters for the Celtics, would always say things like, “if the Celtics put as much effort into defense as they did offense, this team wouldn’t be too bad.”

One year later, that “culture change” that Pierce talked about is as apparent as ever, and it’s all because of Kevin Garnett. This Celtics team now prides itself in working hard on the defensive end and putting energy and effort into stopping the other team.

Allowing 90.6 ppg, the Celtics have been jockeying with Detroit for the honor of Best Statistical Defensive Team.

The 42 percent their opponents shoot from the field is best in the NBA and the 18.5 apg they allow is second to another defensive-minded team, San Antonio.

To ice the cake, the Celtics just held their inept opponent – the Miami Heat – to a record-low 17 field goals in one game.

Dean Oliver, who wrote the book Basketball on Paper, created a stat called the Defensive Rating. This rating is determined by looking at how many points are allowed by a team or an individual per 100 of their opponent’s possessions.

The 2007 Celtics had a rating of 106.9, which was 16th in the NBA (the Bulls were first with a 99.6). With the help of Kevin Garnett and his defense-first mentality, the Celtics have exploded to the top in 2008, owning a defensive rating of 99.2. The Houston Rockets are closest with a 101.6.

To even further illustrate how great Garnett’s impact has been, you need to see how much he has influenced his teammates. Since every NBA player also has a Defensive Rating, a look at the starting five of the Celtics is the best barometer.

Between Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and KG, their Defensive Ratings decreased by an average of 6.8 points, with Ray Allen’s number dropping nine points.

You know that saying, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Well, Garnett did. He instilled defense in every man on the Celtics, even the veterans.

Paul Pierce is right. The culture has changed. Starting on the new parquet and making its way up to Danny Ainge’s office, Kevin Garnett has helped change the face of the Celtics and he has made professional basketball relevant again in Boston.

That makes Boston happy. In the larger scheme of it all, that makes David Stern and the NBA happy because rejuvenation and relevancy in a large, storied city means extra money for their association.

If only New York could be so lucky.