Wednesday, March 9, 2011 Updated: March 10, 8:28 AM ET
Krstic a throw-in? Not for the Celtics
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Fair or not, Nenad Krstic came to Boston with the label of "throw-in" after the blockbuster deadline swap between the Celtics and Thunder.
That much was obvious when the shortened version of the trade was referred to as "Perkins for Green." The insinuation being, of course, that Kendrick Perkins and Jeff Green were the key assets exchanged, relegating Nate Robinson and Krstic (along with the future first-round pick the Celtics obtained from Oklahoma City) as mere supplemental parts, the filler that made the trade work under the NBA's salary parameters.
In so many words, Krstic will admit that the throw-in suggestion bothers him. He was, after all, a player who started 47 games for a top-tier team in the rigid Western Conference.
"I come from a country where Serbian people are very proud," the soft-spoken Krstic said after scoring a season-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting with a team-high nine rebounds over 37:44 in Wednesday's 108-103 loss to the visiting Los Angeles Clippers. "I didn't expect anything -- I didn't even expect the trade or anything. But when I came here, the coaches gave me a chance to just play."
Nenad Krstic's numbers when starting at center for the Celtics are impressive so far.
And while Green is still trying to settle into his role with a new-look second unit, Krstic has managed to do what few thought he could: calming a fan base left pretty much incredulous by a trade that sent away a piece of Boston's nucleus in the Big Three era.
Through six games, Krstic is averaging 13.7 points per contest, far and away the best production of any of the six players who have started at least one game at the center position this season, including Glen Davis (11 ppg in one start), Shaquille O'Neal (9.3 ppg in 36 starts), Jermaine O'Neal (8.3 ppg in five starts), Semih Erden (6.9 ppg in seven starts) and even Perkins (8.3 ppg in seven starts).
What's more, Krstic is averaging 5.5 rebounds per game, many of which are coming on the offensive end and leading to second-chance buckets. For the second time this season against the Clippers, he produced a Celtics single-game high with six offensive rebounds Wednesday.
Even his teammates are somewhat surprised by how effective he's been after stepping into a difficult situation.
"I think the surprise is just because a lot of people are not familiar with him," Kevin Garnett said. "I think that's his game. What a lot of people don't know is that he can shoot out to 16, 17 feet. He's a big man, but he has range. With offensive rebounds, he has a lot of energy, he's good around the basket. I think the fact that people get more familiar with his game, the more pleased they'll be. He's a very good addition to our team."
Even Green, who spent the past three seasons with him in Oklahoma City, admits he's been impressed by what Krstic has accomplished thus far. Maybe it was simply masked by the individual talent such as All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but Green doesn't think people realize just how talented the 27-year-old Krstic is.
But now he's forcing them to take notice.
On a night when Garnett simply didn't have it, Krstic -- the only other true big for the injury-depleted Celtics -- poured in 12 fourth-quarter points Wednesday, single-handedly keeping Boston's rally alive at times. His efforts helped the Celtics turn a 23-point deficit into a one-possession game in the fourth frame, but they couldn't steal the win.
Which left a sour taste for Krstic, his pride showing yet again.
"[The point total] doesn't matter, really," he said. "I really feel bad right now because we lost."
While Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledged that he'd like to see Krstic toughen up a bit around the basket defensively -- maybe use that 7-foot frame to muscle opposing players away from the hoop before they receive the ball -- he did admit after Wednesday's game that Krstic had exceeded expectations.
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Sure, the Celtics liked him a lot, but even Rivers isn't certain they knew he had this much talent.
"We wouldn't have done [the Oklahoma City trade] for one piece," Rivers said before Wednesday's game. "Jeff Green was very important in the trade, but so was Nenad. They both were.
"He can play, and I think people are being reminded of that."
Krstic harped on the fact that he needs more work on the defensive end. On a night when many would have been celebrating their offensive output, he pinned some of Boston's struggles on his acclimation to a new team.
"It's hard when you go to a new team, a winning team, who is trying to win a championship," Krstic said. "Coach gave me a chance, and I feel really bad because we lost. But I feel like, if he put me in and we struggled, I feel that it's because of me. I don't know if I'm where I need to be defensively."
Garnett -- not the easiest person to win over because of his insistence that teammates make defense a priority -- is in Krstic's corner.
"Well, I think our schemes are a little more detailed than what he was in [with the Thunder]," Garnett said. "I don't know that system, I just know we are, and getting terminology down and 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.
"More importantly, he's going really hard and he's trying, so that says a lot."
It says he's more than just a throw-in.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.