The imminent demise of the Boston Celtics has been greatly exaggerated.
It was going to be quite the struggle to begin with, but losing its all-star point guard seemed like the final nail in the coffin.
Or so you would think.
After last night’s 109-101 road victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics now find themselves five games over .500 with a record of 32-27, which puts them in the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Only 1.5 games separate them from that elusive fourth seed, which is currently owned by the Chicago Bulls. Moving up to the fourth spot would be huge for Boston, as it would guarantee them home-court advantage in the first round. It would also allow them to avoid a meeting with the Miami Heat in their opening playoff series, as well.
Boston is now 12-4 this season without Rondo in the lineup. That record includes victories over the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors. They were three games under .500 at 20-23 before he got hurt.
So what gives?
Rajon Rondo is a threat to put up a triple-double every time he steps on the court. Through 38 games, Rondo was averaging a double-double of 13. 7 points and 11.1 assists, which leads the NBA. He was voted in as a starter for his fourth NBA All-Star game back in February.
A case could even be made for Rondo being the best all-around point guard in the league today.
Yet, without him, the Boston Celtics are finding ways to win basketball games. In fact, they’re finding more success with him away from the team.
How is that possible?
Well, in the most desperate of times, the remaining Celtics have found a way to overcome adversity and persevere.
“I just think we’re playing better, for whatever reason,” said coach Doc Rivers. “You have all those injuries, you usually go the other way. I just think our guys kind of came together and realized we don’t have a margin of error anymore. (Boston Globe)
Kevin Garnett, the heart and soul of this Boston team, believes the team’s decision making on the court has vastly improved in order to compensate for not having Rondo around.
“I would say [we’re] more decisive,” he said. “You get to whatever you’re doing and if you’re going to pass it, pass it, if not you make your move. Consistency is something that I always put our hat on. The more consistent we can be with stopping the ball . . . that’s been the formula for success since I’ve been here and getting guys to buy in.”
Paul Pierce, the cornerstone of the franchise and a 15-year veteran of the team, acknowledges his fellow teammates and their willingness to step up as one of the main reasons the Celtics have remained afloat in the East, despite their numerous injuries to key players.
“I think when you have the type of adversity we been through, the sense of urgency is a little more kicked in,” Pierce said. “It’s giving guys an opportunity to step up, being able to elevate their play, and it’s showing. You always see the character when you get a group that has to go through some adversity.
“Everybody was hearing the rumblings after the injuries. We were going to fall out the playoff race, this team can’t play with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. Guys in the locker room are going to hear that and there’s a sense of pride about them and [it’s] making them better and making them compete.”
While Rajon Rondo is very much a key component of the Celtics, it should be noted that he is not their best player, at least in my opinion.
He’s second in the NBA in turnovers (3.9), his free-throw shooting percentage is atrocious for a point guard (64.1%), and he comes off as being overly concerned with his statistical production, passing up open looks in order to get assists, or overly fighting for steals on the defensive end to pad his numbers.
Here’s an interesting stat: No starting point guard since 1987 (Magic Johnson) has led their team to the NBA Championship after having led the league in assists during the regular season.
Despite all of that, this Celtics team is going to find winning a playoff series or two extremely difficult without him. He’s a game-changer who makes life easier for the rest of his teammates, day in and day out. He’s not the perfect player, but there is no denying his immense talent. He’s the kind of guy you want running your offense in a seven-game series. He’s going to be missed out there when the games actually matter.
Winning in the regular season is one thing, but the NBA Playoffs are an entirely different beast.
It must be reassuring, for the time being, knowing that they can win without one of their stars, but I’d be surprised to see the Boston Celtics make any REAL noise in the postseason without Rajon Rondo.
Desire can only take you so far. They’re a great story, but let’s wait and see how Boston does in April, May and June.