Krstic studying for an A in ‘D’
Garnett teaches him tricky Celtics system
The communication between Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins was anything but unspoken. They barked loud and often, treading the paint like security guards.
That’s the language Garnett is trying to teach Nenad Krstic, his new partner in the paint, even if Krstic will be in the Celtics’ starting lineup only until Shaquille O’Neal returns from his Achilles’ tendon injury.
Their job is to watch each other’s blind side, and there’s a certain trust level that comes with expecting someone to be in a certain spot even if you can’t see him.
Krstic, who was acquired in a trade with Oklahoma City two weeks ago, is still learning those spots. At times during Wednesday’s 108-103 loss to the Clippers, Garnett was waving Krstic into those spots. But the expectation is that over the final weeks of the season, Krstic will find them.
“He’s picking it up,’’ Garnett said. “But more importantly, he’s going really hard.’’
Part of picking up a new system is flushing out the old one.
“Sometimes I’m lost a little bit because different styles,’’ Krstic said. “Playing in Oklahoma still is in my head, and just really trying to get adjusted.’’
The Celtics’ defensive schemes have baffled many a newcomer. After arriving late in the 2008-09 season, Mikki Moore never fully grasped it. Last season, Nate Robinson compared it to learning an offense.
“I think our schemes are a little more detailed than what he had in OKC,’’ Garnett said. “I don’t know their system. I just know how we are.
“Getting terminology down, getting certain schemes down, that’s going to take a while. But he’s getting it. He’s working really hard at it, and I’m just making sure that the communication between the two of us is very solid, making sure communication is constant, it’s loud, it’s often.’’
The Clippers game was a matchup nightmare. Blake Griffin’s hops go without saying, but DeAndre Jordan has scored more than two-thirds of his buckets this year on dunks. Krstic was on the unfortunate end of a few more.
On one inbounds play, Jordan called for the ball under the basket and threw a shoulder into Krstic, creating so much space that Rajon Rondo slipped between the two of them. Then Jordan flushed it down one-handed, screaming in Krstic’s face as he bounced back to play defense.
Another time, Krstic was camped in the paint and found himself trying to help Garnett defend Griffin. But in the process he lost track of Jordan, who flushed another one down.
Even when Krstic did the right thing, the results weren’t there. On one possession, he couldn’t have defended Griffin much better, forcing him off the block and making him spin and pivot until he took an awkward hook — which swished through.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers wants to see Krstic start doing his work earlier on defensive rotations.
“You can see he allows the big to catch it deep and then he tries to defend,’’ Rivers said. “With his size, it’s just too late. He just has to learn. He did it after [Chris] Kaman scored the first two times, he actually did it. So he can do it, it’s just learning to do it.’’
For Garnett, it’s a matter of teaching Krstic. Perkins became the perfect protegé, a carbon copy in their bad cop-bad cop routine. But Krstic is mellow in the locker room and relatively reserved on the floor. Bringing in Sasha Pavlovic, who sits in the corner locker next to Krstic, has helped open Krstic up, Garnett said.
“I just don’t know him,’’ Garnett said. “Trying to hang out with a guy, trying to get to know his tendencies on the court, trying to understand who he is in March of a season is a challenge at times. But it’s a challenge that we all look forward to.
“I’m just trying to see his personality. See who he is. It’s just a lot of learning on the fly, if you will.’’
“It’s going to come a little bit easier because Kevin is always talking to him and trying to help him understand,’’ said Paul Pierce. “Any little second he gets, from the bench to the sidelines in practice to the sidelines in games, hopefully with Kevin there to mentor him about what we do defensively, he’ll pick things up. But he’s been fairly consistent, for the most part.’’
At the same time, Krstic isn’t making life easy for the players who have to guard him. He went for 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting against the Clippers. But fitting into his role defensively is Krstic’s top priority.
“I think it’s going to come,’’ Krstic said. “I just need to get used to more of the guys. Sometimes I try to do too much, trying to over-help, so I have stupid fouls.
“I know how to score, but my main focus is on defense, to play better and to help the team.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.