Ranking the top 10 Celtics 'agitators' of the past decade
When Doc Rivers coached the Boston Celtics, he would often talk about advice he received from the late Red Auerbach who spoke to him about the importance of having a few guys on the roster who were “agitators;” that is, guys who consistently found a way to get underneath the skin of opposing players.
There are plenty of players through the years who fit that description who played for the Celtics.
But for our purposes, we’ll focus on the last decade, one in which agitators played a pivotal role in the team’s success even after the 2008 title run.
In keeping with honoring the best of the best during the 2010s, here we have a list of the Celtics’ top-10 agitators of the past decade with their years in Boston in parentheses.
10. Jae Crowder (2014-2017)
A throw-in as part of the Rajon Rondo trade to Dallas in 2014, Jae Crowder provided some much-needed hope and optimism to a Celtics franchise that was in full-blown rebuilding mode. He was a seldom-used role player with the Mavericks, only to emerge as a gritty, tough-minded defender who would prove to be an emotional catalyst who on many nights helped propel the Celtics to victory. And he impacted the game with his defense as well as an occasional run-in with an opponent that always fired up the TD Garden crowd.
9. Delonte West (2004-2007; 2010-2011)
A timely shot-maker and physical defender, Delonte West was indeed a fan favorite among Celtics fans. But as we soon found out, sometimes he went too far when it came to his tough guy demeanor.
During his second stint in 2010 with Boston, West was not immune to ruffling the feathers of foes and teammates alike. Sometimes things went a little too far, like the time he got into a fight with teammate Von Wafer in practice. But one thing we all knew about West during his time as a Celtic? He would play hard and provide the kind of toughness teams need in order to be successful.
8. Terry Rozier (2015-2019)
Projected as a possible second-round pick coming out of Louisville in 2015, Rozier simply out-worked most of his competition to propel himself into a first-round selection. The Celtics loved how in workouts he would defend end-line to end-line, and often frustrate the player he was matched up against. Once a Celtic, Rozier continued to play a no-backin’-down brand of basketball that endeared him to many. Rozier was eventually included as part of a sign-and-trade with Charlotte this summer in which he became a Hornet while Boston acquired three-time All-Star Kemba Walker in the deal.
7. Aron Baynes (2017-2019)
The man around these parts often referred to as “All of Australia,” was all that and then some when it came to getting under the skin of opposing big men. His knack for being in the right place defensively pretty much all the time, had a way of wearing down opponents over the course of a game. Combine his exceptional positioning with his sheer brute strength … you had a guy that made things uncomfortable for foes on a night-in, night-out basis.
6. Marcus Morris (2017-2019)
Acquired via trade from Detroit in exchange for Avery Bradley in 2017, Morris had big shoes to fill in terms of replacing a fan favorite in Avery Bradley. That didn’t matter to Morris whose rugged brand of basketball brought about a much-needed level of toughness for the Celtics and endeared him to the fans. And if you take what he believes is a cheap shot and direct it at him, he’s quick to let you know … he’s not having it! Now with the New York Knicks, he's getting all the shots he wants. But as far as wins ... that's another story.
5. Kendrick Perkins (2003-2011)
Drafted straight out of high school, you will be hard-pressed to find many Celtics this past decade whose presence provided such an elite level of toughness. The big fella played rugged defense and set hard, bone-crunching screens that were part of the formula for success that led to Banner 17 in 2008. The Celtics saw this all the time, both with the C’s and against them when he played for Cleveland and set a hard screen on another Celtics agitator, Jae Crowder. Perkins will always be associated with toughness, in addition to being part of a starting five that never lost a playoff series.
4. Tony Allen (2004-2010)
Tony Allen used his body to get into people and contest shots and leave players with little to no space to breathe, let alone shoot, the qualities that endeared Allen to Celtics fans even as he consistently struggled shooting the ball. Allen spent 14 seasons in the NBA, six of which included him being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first or second team. As important as he was to Boston, he left and went to Memphis where he became the face of their Grit-and-Grind brand of basketball, which speaks volumes about how big a loss he was to the Celtics. Danny Ainge has acknowledged that in hindsight, that Boston should have re-signed him.
3. Rajon Rondo (2006-2014)
During his time in Boston, Rajon Rondo was one of those players who refused to back down from anyone, regardless of their size, if he felt challenged by them. We’ve seen him get into it with guards like Chris Paul as well as bigs such as Kris Humphries. And we’ve also seen him frustrate the heck out of dozens of players through the years, too. He is as gifted in getting under the skin of opponents as he is in getting the ball to teammates where they want it, on time. And that makes him one of the all-time great agitators for this Celtics franchise this past decade.
2. Marcus Smart (2013-current)
Marcus Smart is a physical, gritty, nose-to-the-grind defender who mixes in great timing defensively with a tenaciousness that just makes him a pain in the you-know-what every single night. And sometimes, Smart’s penchant for defense may go too far, which is when you know Smart has you right where he wants you. He is one of the rare players whose defense is so good, it makes players focus on how to free themselves from his dogged attacking brand of defense, rather than think about what they should do to help their team be successful. And that is what makes him such a special agitator; the ability to get opponents focusing on something beyond their play. And then there’s the occasional trash talk that also has a tendency to rub players the wrong way … a lot. That’s a good thing for the Celtics, who are off to one of the best starts ever under seventh-year coach Brad Stevens. And the Celtics’ ultimate agitator, Marcus Smart, has played a prominent role in this early-season success.
1. Kevin Garnett (2008-2013)
There is no player to have set foot on an NBA floor who got under the skin of an opponent the way Kevin Garnett could. It began before tip-off when Garnett worked himself up into lather that included a few head-bangings against a stanchion. From there, an obscenity-laced exchange ALL GAME LONG ensued. And the worst part for opponents? He proceeded to score on any of your bigs, with ease. He locked up whoever he was guarding, and provided help-side defense that’s top-shelf. But more than anything else, Garnett had a way of uplifting an entire team, consistently.
And with the Celtics, he took it a step further and uplifted the entire basketball culture to a level that was pivotal in the franchise bringing home Banner 17 in 2008. His days in the NBA may be a thing of the past now, but Garnett’s passion for the game and ability to work the nerves of the most patient and skilled baller puts him head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to the all-time great agitators in Celtics history.