Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell is not surprised that the Boston Celtics have gone from division sad-sacks last season to a squad with the best record in the NBA (16-2).
Mitchell said the reason is simple: Kevin Garnett.
Mitchell said it isn't so much Garnett's offence that has turned the Celtics around. It's his commitment to defence and the confidence that he gives his teammates.
Garnett, a teammate of Mitchell's during KG's first six NBA seasons in Minnesota, has been named to 10 all-star teams and eight all-defensive teams in his career. The Celtics are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this season, even though they have two other star players who weren't known for playing D prior to this season -- Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
"You look at this team last year. Paul (Pierce) didn't have the type of year he is having (this season). Kendrick Perkins wasn't playing with the fire and the passion that he has now," Mitchell said. "But you bring in Kevin Garnett and all of a sudden everybody's confidence goes up, everybody plays with a little more pride. What he brings on the court is infectious."
Mitchell said that it is not coaches, but players, such as Garnett, who inspire (or perhaps shame) other star players to play defence, because they lead by example.
"Two things make guys play better defence. Either it's in him, or there's somebody on that court who plays so hard with such a zeal and lifts them up," Mitchell said. "So how do you get a superstar like (Pierce, who) hasn't played defence his whole career, that's guaranteed $17 million a year, to play D? No coach has done if before. You bring in a Kevin Garnett, a Tim Duncan ... guys who are known to play that way. It's amazing. And that's not to take anything away from coaches. We can only do so much."