Celtics put faith in their defense

Times Staff Writer

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Celtics’ pride?

It’s in their defense, where the influence of Kevin Garnett as its cornerstone trickled its way through the rest of the team.

To that end, the Celtics maintain they will scheme no differently for their NBA Finals date with the Lakers.

“We can’t be anybody different,” Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said at Tuesday’s practice. “We are who we are.”

Who they are is a stingy bunch. The Celtics allowed a thrifty 90.3 points to opponents this season. They fight through screens and clog lanes like a backed-up gutter.

Rivers handed the keys to the defense to assistant Tom Thibodeau, who preached to his veteran core the need to stop dribble penetration and overload the strong side. Because of their length (see: Garnett), they are often able to recover once they overcommit.


While their offense has stagnated at times, their defense has paved their path to the Finals.

Similarly to how the Lakers are expected to match up, the Celtics will probably pit second-year point guard Rajon Rondo on Derek Fisher, Ray Allen on Kobe Bryant and have Paul Pierce shadow Vladimir Radmanovic.

“If a guy gets beat or a guy drives, there’s going to be a help guy and the next guy will be the rotation for that help guy,” Rondo said.

The front-court is where the matchups could differ.

Assignments could change as the series evolves, but for now, the Celtics plan to start Garnett on Lamar Odom, leaving center Kendrick Perkins to defend Pau Gasol. The Lakers are expected to crisscross those front-court assignments.

No matter, because if Bryant gets into the lane, Garnett or Perkins is expected to be there to greet him. “We’ll move him around,” Rivers said of Garnett, joking to a reporter: “We are thinking of putting him” on Derek Fisher.

The Celtics harassed Bryant into shooting 15 for 46 during the two regular-season meetings. But those games were before Gasol joined the Lakers. In other words, it was before Bryant started making teams who overloaded him pay by passing to capable finishers. Still, the Celtics gave help during the regular season and plan to give it now.

“A player like Kobe is definitely a guy that’s going to be difficult to stop,” Pierce said. “The things we do defensively, we’ll have more than one guy with the help defense. We’ve just got to make it difficult on him. We know he’s a great, great scorer, capable of putting up huge numbers. Our job is to slow him down, make him take difficult shots and try to make other guys beat us.”

Guard Tony Allen, who played a role in defending Bryant during two regular-season games, practiced Tuesday but is still hindered with a strained right Achilles’ tendon. Aggressive forward James Posey is also expected to draw his share of time defending Bryant.

But Ray Allen draws the key assignment in trying to keep up with Bryant, while not getting himself into foul trouble and taking away a key part to the Celtics offense in himself.

His mind-set going in?

“I think you just don’t let your guard down because you’re going to think he’s shooting all the time,” Allen said.