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There’s no question the Celtics have been lacking something as of late, and that spark we saw earlier in the season has been virtually absent since the All-Star break. The Celtics have lost three of their last four games, looking lackluster in all of them. Kevin Garnett’s emotions don’t seem to be there, Rajon Rondo is even more emotionally distant than usual, as is the rest of the team. There’s no way they’re just coasting to the playoffs like last season with the race for seeding so close, so what are they missing as of late?
Hopefully the answer will turn up sometime around April 5, which is the date that center Shaquille O’Neal is slated to make a return from an achilles injury. Watching the Celtics-Pacers game Monday night, it’s clear the Celtics having been missing one thing at least, and that’s a truly dominant force inside. The offensive hot streak of Nenad Krstic has since cooled off a bit, and defensively, he’s about as soft as they come. The Kendrick Perkins trade was not as bad as many people made it out to be, but defensively, someone needs to step up and fill the role he left. So far, it hasn’t really been done. Krstic brings a finesse style that doesn’t quite fit Boston’s needs right now, so something clearly needs to change.
Jermaine O’Neal is said to be coming back very soon as well, but his injury plagued season can only leave Boston fans wondering if he will truly make an impact. With the end of the season rocketing ever closer, Jermaine O’Neal getting eased back onto the court in time for playoffs probably won’t happen to the point where it’ll have a major effect. Shaq’s minutes will be much more valuable. He’s the best banger on the frontlines Boston has now that Kendrick Perkins is gone, and he’s the only one who can defend the likes of Dwight Howard (or Roy Hibbert, as we all witnessed Monday night’s 26-point effort).
The chemistry is still there, and the talent has been there all year. The Celtics need their defensive force back, their toughness, their grit. The Celtics need Shaq now more than ever, and hopefully he’s ready to fill his own shoes when the time comes. With the playoffs looming over the horizon, it’s looking like the real Superman is going to have to save the city of Boston.