When Brad Stevens admitted that he "doesn't have a lot of guys with that old-school center strength" after the Celtics got bullied by Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, what he might have been alluding to is the fact his roster may actually not have any of those to begin with.
While Stevens did mention his center pairing of Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis had a good offensive outing versus the Sixers, he failed to throw out any accolades on the duo's defensive coverage of Embiid.
Well, Stevens may actually have one strong, relentless old-school center on his roster, but he is only 6-foot-3 and that, of course, would be guard Marcus Smart. Who are considered some of the old-school centers of the past, you may ask? Here are some names; Willis Reed, Wes Unseld and Dave Cowens. Reed was the tallest of the tough trio at 6-foot-9 and a half, while Cowens came in at 6-foot-8 in a half, and Unseld was an undersized center at 6-foot-7.
They took on the likes of 7-foot-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and 7-foot-1 and 275-pound Wilt Chamberlain. Reed, Unseld and Cowens were physically strong, but it was their refusal to be bullied under the basket that made them so effective. Clearly it appears that Stevens does not put Theis and Kanter into their company as far as strength and determination.
Make no mistake, Theis has been an anchor in Boston's defense all season, as has Smart. But at 6-foot-8 and a seemingly-generous listing at 243 pounds, Theis simply can't - or won't - take on the behemoths like Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo. That might go ditto for Kanter, but Marcus Smart? He is deceptively powerful - has a low center of gravity - and refuses to be bullied anywhere on the court. Smart has had some great outings guarding the bigs of todays NBA, and had he been able to play against the 76ers, the outcome of last Thursday might have been different for Boston.
With Philadelphia and Milwaukee potentially blocking the Celtics run to the Finals, in the end, Marcus Smart may provide the answer to Boston getting by their two Eastern Conference rivals. The Celtics may not be able to match the size, strength and determination of The Greek Freak and Philly's Embiid, but they can't allow them to "make BBQ Chickin" out of Boston's centers either.
Now that the Celtics frontcourt depth has gotten thin with the recent injuries to Robert Williams III (hip edema) and Vincent Poirier (right pinkie fracture) for the next several weeks, Smart's pending return from an eye infection will be that much more important, especially when it comes to the next matchup with the Sixers and Bucks.
Photos used are courtesy of USA Today