Maybe Tony Battie learned a little something from Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace during the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
After averaging 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Celtics center is suddenly posting Wallace-type numbers in the paint: 11.5 boards, 4.5 blocks? Certainly New Jersey didn't count on this enforcer, particularly after Game 1, when Jason Kidd and Co. were getting everything they wanted around the basket.
Battie's defense shut down the middle against the Nets in Game 2.|
Noren Trotman/NBAE/Getty Images
"We wouldn't be here today, tied, 1-1, going back to Boston, if we didn't have Tony," Celts GM Chris Wallace told the Boston Globe
. "Wouldn't be in the series in the first place.''
That's serious praise for a player who is on the court fewer minutes than any other starter (27.5 mpg during the postseason), and who -- at 6-11, 240 pounds -- is a tad undersized to keep 280-pound Nets center Todd MacCulloch and his famous soft hands away from the hoop. But there's no arguing with results: After 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting in Game 1, MacCulloch didn't get a thing in Game 2, finishing with just three points -- all on free throws.
The bigger knock on the Celtics after Game 1, though, was that any Net who felt so inclined could take a drive to the rim through a lane wide enough for a 747. Where was Boston's interior defense? Seven Nets scored in double-figures (and Kenyon Martin nearly joined them with nine points), and the team shot nearly 50 percent from the field while simply bludgeoning the Celtics with points in the paint, 48-20.
Said Boston forward Eric Williams after that performance, "We did not stop the transition. They got a lot of easy points. They got a lot of layups."
Hence the Game 2 marching orders: No more easy points. No more layups. And suddenly Tony Battie is a defensive monster.
Battie came out in Game 2 and reclaimed the lane. His five blocks only begin to tell the story of how he altered shots and took away the running room the Nets had enjoyed in Game 1, forcing them to think kick-out rather than layup. The Nets' points in the paint dropped by 18 points (oddly -- or not -- their final score also dropped by 18, from 104 to 86). They took way more outside shots, more threes, and their field-goal percentage plummeted to just 33 percent.
"They really packed it in and dared us to shoot it from the outside," said Nets coach Byron Scott in the Newark Star-Ledger. "We have to be patient and look for post-up position and if you don't have that then you have to take what the defense gives you. We just didn't do a good job offensively. But give them some credit. They did a very good job on the defensive end."
''Everybody said we had no interior defense,'' Antoine Walker told the Globe afterward. ''I think Tony Battie answered that tonight.''
Then there's Battie's rebounding, which has increased significantly with each series: 4.4 vs. Philadelphia, 8.2 vs. Detroit, and now 11.5 vs. New Jersey. And these aren't the gimme "I'm the only big guy around so I may as well grab the ball" defensive boards. No, Battie is cleaning up on the other end far better than anyone on either team, averaging 5.5 offensive rebounds per game, including seven in Game 2. That means second chances for the Celts and that means a better chance to win.
''He was big. He's capable of doing that every night,'' said Celtics guard Kenny Anderson of Battie in the Globe. ''If he does that every night and everybody comes like we've been doing in these playoffs, they're in trouble.''
Battie should be getting a bill from Ben Wallace in the mail any day now.