Most NBA teams set modest goals. They plan to perhaps get out of the lottery or improve on last year's win total, maybe target the playoffs. They might take aim on a divisional title. And then there's the handful that expect to win it all. The Celtics are back to believing that anything short of another ring will be a letdown. But they also have a secondary goal that is a little wild, a little out of the box.
``We want to be the best defensive team in history,'' Kendrick Perkins said.
As evidenced by his deadpan, Perkins has no doubt that this goal is realistic.
On one level this is simply coach Doc Rivers' latest motivational ploy, like that empty banner on the practice facility wall in Waltham and the power of Umbuntu.
The 2003-04 editions of the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs are two of the best ever at stopping people. Each held opponents to 84.3 scoring average - a number that is third-best in NBA history. That Spurs team also limited opponents to .409 percent shooting - also third-best all-time. No team has ever held opponents under .402 percent for a season.
That Pistons squad set an NBA record by holding opponents under 100 points for 36 straight games. A month later they came back with a 30-game streak that ranks third-best in league history. That same team set a league record by holding five straight opponents under 70 points, a feat it accomplished 11 times overall.
The 2008-09 Celtics , as tight a defensive unit as you'll find, held opponents to a league-leading .419 field goal percentage and a 90.3 scoring average. They were second, behind the Pistons, in the latter category.
The Celtics' addition this season of Rasheed Wallace -- a pivotal member of the 2003-04 Pistons -- gives them a backup post defender of starting quality. Marquis Daniels, like James Posey two years ago, is a wiry athlete who can defend all three wing positions.
With more combinations than ever available to him, Rivers can combat a wide range of matchup challenges.
The actual goal is a nice carrot.
``I don't mind them thinking like that,'' he said. ``I didn't really make a big thing of it. I just said, `Guys, you have to have your goals set high.' (Being from Chicago), I used the '85 Bears as my example. I asked them, when you hear about the '85 Bears, what do you think of, and they said, `The best defense in history.'
``It's good if they take this seriously. I wanted them to take me seriously.''
Rivers isn't the only one talking on a high level. Wallace, shortly after joining the team, raised the bar with his prediction that the Celtics could match or break the NBA's single season win mark of 72.
Nor did Wallace stop there.
``Rasheed said he thinks this team can break the record they had in Detroit of going seven straight games holding a team under (70) points,'' said Paul Pierce. ``I was like, `That's kind of tough to do,' and he said `We've got that kind of team.' You definitely believe.''
Can the Celtics hold opponents for an entire season to 40 percent shooting and a low 80s scoring average?
``I think so,'' said Perkins, who will obviously have a lot to do with making that result possible.
But like Pierce and everyone else on this team, Perkins has bought into Rivers' defensive mission.
``That's a subject Doc brings up every day,'' said Perkins. ``That's our goal for this year. Then the rest will fall into place.
``It's the personnel we have that allows us to think that way,'' he said. ``Paul got into great shape for camp, Ray (Allen) got into great shape, we have the addition of Rasheed Wallace, Baby (Glen Davis) got into great shape. Everybody is doing everything they can to get ready. So that's a good goal for our team.
``Everybody's focused for the simple fact that time is short and we have a lot of work to do, and so we have to work on stuff. We do believe we can do this.''
Elbow grease, according to Garnett, as always this team's defensive soul, is most of the battle.
``Defensively we look very good,'' he said. ``But so does Orlando, so does the Hawks, teams like that. But it's what you make out of it. Defense is all effort. It's all grit and grime.''
It's also about belief -- a quality that appears to be in ample supply on this team of lofty aspirations.
According to Pierce, there's a simple reason why this team spends so much time talking about a chase for history.
``If that's something you want to accomplish, then you have to envision it,'' said the Celtics captain. ``You have to talk about it, and that's something that we talk about a lot. We feel we can do that with the pieces that we have. We want to have one of the most prestigious teams to ever play the game -- not just for one season.''
Could they be more defensively prestigious, even, than the 2007-08 Celtics ?
``I definitely think so,'' said Pierce. ``I think we're going to be a better rebounding team, which also helps. You put a great defensive player like Rasheed Wallace down there, who covers so much space and is one of the greatest communicators in the NBA, talking on defense with Kevin, it's going to be a great year.
``You're already seeing signs of it in the preseason,'' he said. ``You see teams coming out scoring 12 or 13 points against us in the first quarter -- that's something that we want to continue to do in the regular season.''
BEST DEFENSIVE TEAMS IN NBA HISTORY
OPPONENT'S SHOOTING PERCENTAGE
.402 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs
.403 1998-99 New York Knicks
.409 2003-03 San Antonio Spurs
OPPONENT'S SCORING AVERAGE
83.4 1998-99 Atlanta Hawks
84.0 1998-99 Miami Heat
84.3 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
2003-04 San Antonio Spurs
CONSECUTIVE GAMES UNDER 100 POINTS
36 Detroit Oct. 29, '03-Jan. 7, '04
33 New York Nov.11, '00-Jan. 21, '01
30 Detroit Feb. 10, '04-April 13, '04
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