I was lucky to be on Twitter Sunday when the news came out that Rajon Rondo wasn’t going to be in the lineup for the Celtics-Heat match up. I watched as a “tweaked knee” turned into a full-blown ACL tear, and Celtics fans reacted. Oh, did they react, only the reaction just made me realize where most people stand when it comes to overall knowledge of basketball and how the game is not only supposed to be played, but also knowing how to win consistently. According to Celtics fans everywhere, and even experts like Magic Johnson and Bill Simmons (I’m surprised he didn’t see what I saw) the Celtics were done. No chance, Rondo is out for the season, might as well trade away everyone and start over. The problem is, that makes no sense, and the truth is, this team is very talented and more dangerous than they were a week ago. Let me explain.
The Celtics entered Sundays game with a record of 20-23, and not only were they under .500, they were on a losing streak and guys were starting to go into shells. Brandon Bass was rumored to be looking for a trade, Jason Terry has been awful all year, Jeff Green has shown no consistency and Courtney Lee has not shown the promise the Celtics saw in him when they pushed hard over the summer to sign him to a team friendly contract. There was an initial spark and clear improvement when Avery Bradley, the best defender in the NBA, returned to the lineup, but the level of play just wasn’t good enough on offense and the Celtics couldn’t gain any traction in the consistency department. All the while, we are reading and hearing that because Rondo is averaging 13 and 11, he is God’s gift to point guards. He went on his streak of double digit assist games, and everyone was on the Rondo train.
Here is the thing: if the ball is in your hands 80% of the game, how can you NOT have 13 and 11? Rondo would not move the ball, period. He would dribble until about eight seconds to go on the shot clock and then look to make a play. In the books, it looks effective because of the stats, but the truth is it is awful basketball that not only alienates teammates on offense; it also causes less movement that eventually translates to defense. Anyone who has ever played a game of basketball will tell you that playing defense is easier when you get involved on the offensive end too. Why would the NBA be any different? It isn’t, and the last three games prove it.
With Avery Bradley, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and even Paul Pierce able to bring the ball up and setup the offense, the offense won’t waste time dribbling and will immediately get into their sets, something we also saw last year when the Celtics went 8-5 without Rondo in the lineup. Keep in mind that team didn’t have as much depth as this years team, so if anything, they will be that much better with an overall higher talent level. Another thing that nobody wants to admit is the pampering of Rondo to avoid blowups; that is one of the main reasons they call him the “leader” and let him have cart blanche on offense. Ray Allen didn’t hate Rondo, he hated PLAYING with Rondo. There is a big difference.
The Jared Sullinger season ending injury is a blow, not only for him, but also for what the plan was going to be on offense after Rondo was officially ruled out for the year. Now the best low post player on the team is out too, and when you move to a more team centric offense, the low post option is crucial. Kevin Garnett will have no choice but to play more in the low post and allow Bass to work in the high post. It worked last year and it should work again. Jeff Green is also going to need to step up and be a physical presence. He is already showing signs of flourishing in the new Celtics attack, mainly because he has space to work with going to the basket. That is Green’ game, not standing and waiting for the guard to find him.
The Celtics are going to find a way to get into the top four seeds in the East, just like last year, and they will be more equipped to defend teams like Miami, and maybe even run with them. The real keys to this team are Kevin Garnett and Avery Bradley. If one of those two goes down, then you will see my 2013 Celtic obituary. Until then, enjoy watching basketball being played the way it is meant to be- unselfish.