Celtics and Rondo:
In an ideal world, the Celtics have another version of Kendrick Perkins (pre-knee injury) on their current roster. Darko Milicic was supposed to be that guy. The big man in the middle who gets defensive rebounds, alters shots, and generally imposes his will on the game, if only for 20-25 minutes/game. A fearless, down-and-dirty defender whose girth and strength are his biggest assets. Reggie Evans would have been perfect. Instead, the Celtics have a hole where that player should be. Rumors of a possible Marcin Gortat-trade have lingered. However, Avery Bradley is a future piece Danny Ainge is understandably unwilling to part with. Bradley’s expected mid-December return will help the entire roster, in that he will bump Jason Terry back to the bench, where Terry can take some offensive pressure off of Jeff Green, and allow Courtney Lee to flourish in his corner-3-point-shooting role. Basically, Bradley’s on-the-ball defense is better than 90% of guards in the NBA. He makes up for the risks that Rondo takes defensively. Without a shot-blocker, all five defenders have to work in tandem, understand their rotations, the pick-and-roll strategy, and help out on the glass. By giving Terry and Barbosa bigger minutes, the Celtics’ defense has been exploited.
This brings us to last Wednesday’s debacle at the Garden against the Brooklyn Nets. After losing in Brooklyn earlier and getting destroyed on the boards in November, the Celtics needed to establish themselves at home, both physically and scoreboard-wise, against the revamped and enthused Nets. Instead, they got off to a sluggish start, were being out-worked, out-swaggered, and out-trash-talked through the first half. When Garnett was fouled in mid-air by the notoriously physical Kris Humphries, he landed awkwardly. The play looked worse than it was. Rondo, who has always been close with Garnett, leaped to his defense. What should have happened was this: A Celtics big man steps in, holds the emotional Rondo back, and lets Humphries know that the hard foul, and the attempts at intimidation are not appreciated. Perhaps a hard foul on the other end of the court later in the game. This kind of intensity is part of a statement-game with a division rival. Instead, Rondo lost his head, and drove Humphries behind the basket support, into the stands (an automatic suspension when a scrum extends into the edges of the crowd). Was this a fight? No. Was it a fracas? Yes. A brouhaha? Indeed. Highlights, criticism, over-reactions follow the over-reaction. Does Rondo’s minor flare-ups of temper impact the way it is treated? Probably. He’s had some issues with referees in the past two years, where he’s temporarily lost control of his frustration.
Rondo’s Shove and the Repercussions
Writing for ESPN Boston, Chris Forsberg makes the point that Rondo’s reaction was a protective action rather than an aggressive action. I agree that Rondo overreacted to Garnett’s awkward landing on what was nothing more than a hard foul, but much of the criticism heaped on Rondo misses the larger point that his heart was actually in the right place and as fans, we need these guys to maintain the unity that they’ve had in previous years. Rondo standing up for Garnett is an example that, even without an enforcer in the middle, the Celtics will not continue to be out-worked and allow themselves to let go of the chip on their collective shoulders that led to such dominating and at times intimidating, team defense. Should Rondo have shown contrition after the incident? Yes, even if he doesn’t fully believe it. While I appreciate Rondo’s honesty, the problem with not saying your sorry to the media (we don’t know if he apologized to the team behind closed doors or not) means that your image will only continue to paint you negatively. While Rondo says he’s not worried about that, the fact is that he may continue to be treated differently on the court, by referees, and he’ll continue to be talked about by commentators, in a way that impacts the team. Though we should appreciate him standing up for KG and the closeness they share is instrumental in creating unity that most NBA teams crave, Rondo needs to understand that his image as the team’s leader extends beyond what his intentions are. He has to learn two things: how to keep his head when he’s frustrated; and how to say the right things when they’re needed. I don’t think it was a jackass move the way that some do, but reputation plays a role in those 4th-quarter foul calls. Just ask Paul Pierce, who took a few years to mature into the steady and cerebral, yet still passionate, player that he is today.
Doc calls out team for playing ‘soft’
More importantly than Rondo’s shove, Doc called the team out after the game, explaining that the team is playing “soft.” While any attentive Celtics fan could see that they were lacking defensive unity, energy, and overall aggressiveness over the first month, when a coach calls his team out, a good team responds with that renewed energy and a bad team sulks. We learned that the Celtics won’t sulk. Without Rondo, against a slumping Blazers team, Boston played the kind of stifling defense we’ve gotten used to seeing. Holding the Blazers to 78 points on 35% shooting was certainly a step in the right direction. On the other hand, the Blazers had been held to only 85 and 82 points in two of the their prior three games, heading into the match-up with the Celtics.
The next night, in their third contest of the young season with Milwaukee, the green continued to assert themselves on the defensive side, allowing only 11 first quarter points. A thorn in their sides all year, Larry Sanders’ tenacity changed the tenor of the game, as Milwaukee’s bench outworked the depleted Celtics bench (no Rondo, no Bradley) on the second game of a back-to-back. The 91-88 loss to the Bucks shows that the Celtics had little margin for error without Rondo. Other than Jeff Green’s 18, the bench gave them nothing. Jason Terry’s 11 assists to 1 turnover were stellar, but his 5 of 17 shooting on tired legs, sunk them in the 4th. Pierce, who went 6 of 16, missed a few crucial jumpers down the stretch, and the Celtics fell to 9-8 on the season.
Now, what did the team learn about themselves during Rondo’s two-game absence? That they can move the ball with or without Rondo in the lineup. That they need Barbosa to give them helpful minutes without Avery Bradley active. That Courtney Lee’s confidence is slowly returning. And that they still have no answer for athletic, aggressive power forwards, like Larry Sanders.
The next few games: home vs. Minnesota tonight, @ Philadelphia on Friday, then back home on Saturday vs Philadelphia again.
These three games should provide a sense of how committed to rebounding and defense this team really is.
Keys: keep Kevin Love under 20 rebounds (seriously, he’s been insane lately), keep Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young from repeating their performances from earlier in the year. The Celtics need to start establishing themselves in the Atlantic Division, and splitting the two with the 76ers won’t help.
From Tuesday night:
Wizards (2-13) beat Heat (12-4), 105-101.
From the recap:
The Wizards improved to 2-13, earning their second win in the past three games after starting a franchise-worst 0-12. “I’m so happy for those guys,” said Wittman, who called this perhaps the most satisfying victory of his coaching career. He said he told his team beforehand: “The only people that think you have a chance tonight are the people here in this room. … We need to have a statement game.” And, Wittman continued, “I said, `I’ve seen it a number of times, guys.’ … (People say), `They ain’t got a chance to win this game.’ And that’s what people were saying. We all listen. Could hear it on the street and all that. These guys, it bothers them.”
Congratulations, Randy Wittman.
As a bonus, the Heat showed once again how hard it is for them to get motivated against teams they are supposed to
dominate. After eeking out a win over the substitute Spurs last week, they couldn’t pull this one out in the 4th quarter.
Nice to see the Wizards fans have something to cheer about. Nene’s presence in the lineup doesn’t hurt.
Pacers defeat Bulls, 80-76 in Chicago.
Paul George accounted for 34 of the Pacers 80 points on Tuesday night, shooting 14 of 25 from the floor, in addition to collecting 9 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. George continues to show glimpses of becoming a dominant all-around player for Indiana. Unfortunately for the rest of the Pacers, those glimpses often come one game and disappear the next. Here is a list of his points scored over the last seven games: 6, 37, 15, 12, 4, 0, 34. When he’s feeling it, he’s clearly feeling it. He just needs to feel it with some kind of consistency. Some feeling lessons.