The Celtics have won six games in a row (three coming against weak opponents, two against injury-riddled teams, and the first coming against the Heat). Annihilating the Lakers in the second and third quarters, especially the final four minutes of the third, was especially satisfying. Still, the team hasn’t proven anything without Rondo yet. Beating one of the NBA’s hottest teams, Denver, on Sunday would start to show this new edition of the Celtics as a legitimate threats. Wednesday’s match-up with Chicago may also act as a barometer for what to expect if the roster stays intact over the final two months of the season and into the first round of the playoffs.
In my opinion, most fans are enjoying the fluid offense, the ball movement, the camaraderie, and are not anti-Rondo as much as they are excited about this kind of teamwork. However, I do believe there is a definite element of Boston sports fans (there always has been) who view Rondo as a “punk” and who will never feel the love for him the way they cheer for certain other, more lightly-toned Boston sports stars. Rondo’s stubbornness in dealing with the officials doesn’t help alleviate the somewhat negative reputation he has developed, but his value to the team, the future, and the city’s love of professional basketball should not be questioned the way that it has been over the last two weeks.
Kirk Minihane of WEEI wrote an interesting column about Rondo’s harshest critics, who are enjoying this current win streak and using it as proof that Rondo is overrated or showing that Celtics are perhaps better without Rondo.
From Minihane’s weei.com article: “Celtics are not better without Rajon Rondo.”
All the other stuff, the criticisms of Rondo have validity — there are maturity issues that I suspect will never go away, he has had some shaky moments with teammates, he’ll never be Mark Price as a shooter, he’s never be Dennis Johnson as a defender — and there is something to the idea that the last five games have shown that Rondo a) holds the ball too long during possessions and b) needs to focus more on his on-ball defensive effort. Doc Rivers has long praised Rondo’s basketball IQ, we’ll see if he’s smart and secure enough to acknowledge this and make the proper adjustments next season.
But what’s struck me most about the reaction to this five-game run is the absolute glee of the professional Rondo-haters, this has been sports pornography for them, some kind of validation that doesn’t really exist. There’s been more celebration directed toward winning without Rondo as opposed to the actual winning. And it continues to lead me to this question: If Rondo looked like John Stockton or Mark Price and acted the way he does, would the word “punk” be used so liberally? No chance. He’s not a saint by the loosest definition, but I’ll bet you all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that if he were a white point guard he’d be called “gutsy” and “scrappy” a lot more than he is now. Rondo gives off the impression that he doesn’t care if you like him or not (and who knows if that’s true) and that drives some people bonkers.
Rondo has his flaws, and he’s been around long enough that it’s fair to assume they are not going away, and they are flaws that will prevent him from ever being the best point guard in basketball. But this is a player in his absolute prime who has carried the Celtics to a Game 7 of the NBA finals and a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals over the last three years. Was anyone asking if life would be better without Rondo last June?
Enjoy this run while it lasts, because without Rajon Rondo it’s going to come to an end. And I suspect it’ll take one five-game losing streak for most to jump back on the Rondo bandwagon.
Take a few minutes and listen to Michael Holley and Glen Ordway debate the column, and the fan reaction to Rondo: