Wake up with the Celtics  and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
The same question was asked over and over around the Celtics locker room. The standard poker-faced response? Defensive schemes hadn’t changed much since Thibodeau’s departure.
Perhaps the C’s were playing their cards a little close to the vest.
“From what I’ve seen, they’ve tweaked some things,” Thibodeau told WEEI.com. “There are some things that were there before. I think a big part of their team is the personnel that they have, and it could change again when [Kendrick] Perkins comes back.”
The biggest question marks surrounding the Celtics’ defense entering the 2010-11 season had the same last name — O’Neal. With the additions of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal , how would the C’s integrate them — along with rookies Semih Erden, Luke Harangody and Avery Bradley  — into a defense that ranked first, second and fifth in points allowed per 100 possessions over the last three seasons?
“Some of those guys have pretty good defensive foundations,” added Thibodeau. “A guy like Jermaine O’Neal — his shot blocking — and obviously Shaq’s a physical presence. He takes up a lot of space. He’s always been on the boards, rebounding. I think that they’ve got a lot of length up front, and they’ve got a lot of toughness on that team. So, when you add those things to their system, they’re tough to score on.”
So far, whatever wrinkles Doc Rivers  and new assistant coach Lawrence Frank  have put in place are paying dividends. The C’s currently rank third in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) in the NBA. In perhaps their two most difficult games to date, they’ve held Miami to 80 points at the TD Garden on opening night and the Thunder to 83 points in Oklahoma City on Sunday night.
This fall, Jermaine O’Neal has looked fairly uncomfortable in the offense, but defensively he’s been a stalwart underneath — blocking a shot every 11 minutes in six games this season (despite reportedly undergoing a “minor procedure”  on his left knee this season). Jermaine ranks 44th individually all-time in career defensive rating. Shaq also ranks in the top 100  ever, at 78. Perkins doesn’t rank in the top 250.
So, can the concerns over what Thibodeau’s departure would do to the C’s defense be laid to rest? According to Thibodeau himself, they certainly can.
“The good thing about their team is they’re smart,” said Thibodeau. “So, you can keep adding things to what you’re doing. Each year, we added something to it. It never remained the same. I think it’s their commitment to defense that makes them special. Again, that comes from, first, Doc, and then Kevin [Garnett], Paul [Pierce] and Ray. They’re commitment has made everyone else buy into it.”
Essentially, the foundation is still there, even if the exterior looks a little different.
OKLAHOMA CITY REACTION
Perhaps I should rethink the Thunder’s status as an elite NBA team. After all, following Sunday night’s Celtics victory, Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks  is.
“They’re a title-contending team,” Brooks said of the Celtics in The Oklahoman . “In order for us to play against elite teams, we really have to play good basketball for 48 minutes.
“Playing against the Celtics, they make you look at yourself in different ways because they challenge you in so many ways. They’re a physical team, they’re smart, they’re aggressive. They know how to play, but they’ve played a lot of basketball. We want to get there one day.”
After a 109-104 Oklahoma City victory against the host Celtics last season, Garnett referred to Kevin Durant as “Michael (bleeping) Jordan“  after the Thunder star went to the free throw-line line 15 times.
Prior to Sunday night’s game, Durant responded to KG’s comments …
“I guess that was cool you know,” Durant told  The Boston Globe. “When he said it I was kind of shocked because he said it at a press conference. He thought that was about me. I was just happy to get that win in Boston that night. A lot of people say they gave me fouls and that started the whole thing with Phil Jackson , but it was pretty cool to go through that.
“KG is a top 50 greatest ever to play the game and for him to say that about me is kind of flattering. That’s when people started recognizing me a little bit. But I couldn’t let that affect how I play or our team. I appreciated it, but it was time to move on.”
In the C’s 92-83 win over the Thunder on Sunday night, Durant attempted 11 free throws, scoring 34 points in all. And, no, KG didn’t refer to KD as MJ after the game.
The Worcester Telegram & Gazette’s Bill Doyle had an interesting read over the weekend, discussing Rajon Rondo with Bob Cousy.
“I enjoy watching unselfish point guards,” Cousy told Doyle. “I get much more enjoyment out of watching Rondo than I did watching [John] Stockton even though I had great respect for Stockton. Stockton was boring compared to Rondo. [Rondo] creates off the dribble. Almost every time he penetrates it’s to establish something for someone else. Stockton was strictly bread and butter, it was chest passing, it was bounce passing. He didn’t have the penetrating ability or the creativity.”
Cousy’s theory on why Rondo’s jump shot — and therefore Rondo’s game — hasn’t reached its full potential:
“If he overcomes that fear or apprehension,” Cousy added, “he would be the complete package. That’s the only thing missing.”
So far this season, though, Rondo has shown confidence in his jump shot. He’s pulling up for 15-footers in traffic — something he hasn’t done too often in the past.
In fact, Rondo is shooting 11-of-26 (42.3 percent) from 15 feet and beyond in his first seven games. If not for an 0-for-4 night from beyond 15 feet against the Bulls on Friday night, he’s hit half the jump shots he’s taken this season. He’s also shooting 50 percent from 3-point range, albeit on 2-of-4 shooting.
Perhaps Rondo is becoming, as Cousy said, “the complete package.”
IS SHAQ PLAYING MONDAY NIGHT?
Somewhat to Rivers’ surprise, Shaquille O’Neal  traveled with the team on its current four-game road trip. He didn’t play against the Thunder on Sunday night, but perhaps his tweet last night signaled that he’ll suit up against the Mavericks on Monday night.
Shaq wrote, “Dear Mark Cuban, I’m leaving Oklahoma driving to Dallas right now. It’s on.” Oh, and he obviously posted a video of himself lip synching to Three Days Grace’s “Never Too Late” along with his message …