David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Boston is 2-0 since learning Rajon Rondo has torn his ACL and would miss a year of action. But do not think that the Celtics are better without him, because that's just not true.
1. The Celtics are not better without Rajon Rondo. They're not better because there is no way to replace a player who averages 14 points, 11 assists and 4 rebounds. They're not better because Rondo is the one true point guard on the roster. They're not better because for all his enigmatic weirdness there are few players who thrive in the spotlight like Rondo. They're not better because Rondo makes them dangerous.
2. They are probably better defensively without Rondo. That's a weird thing to say for a player who has led the league in steals and been a fixture on the All-Defensive team for the last four seasons. The numbers are inconclusive that they are actually better defensively without Rondo, but anecdotally his gambles have outlived their usefulness and his perimeter defense has been shaky at best and non-existent at worst. Rondo's absence also allows/forces Doc Rivers to play Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee together in the backcourt, which will make life hell for opposing backcourts. Ask the Kings, who were taken apart in the opening minutes of Wednesday's game by Bradley's relentless pressure and struggled to score 81 points on 39 percent shooting.
3. Jason Terry may in fact be better off without Rondo. He made five of his seven shots and looked like the Jason Terry we all remembered from Dallas. It's no secret that Terry has struggled this season, mainly because he hasn't had as many shots and hasn't had as much to do with Rondo handling the ball so much. Without Rondo, the Celtics are incorporating a basic spread philosophy with shooters spaced around the floor and a heavy dose of pick and rolls, all of which plays to Terry's strengths. He said as much after the game: "It's been an adjustment for me playing in this system but I'm getting more and more comfortable. With this style that we're playing now I think it's a little more conducive to my game."
4. It is very important that Jason Terry plays better without Rondo because the Celtics desperately need his scoring punch. Jason Terry, in fact, may be the most important Celtic right now after Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
5. Any team will play better they share the ball like the Celtics did on Wednesday. No one took more than 11 shots and a half-dozen players scored in double figures. The ball moved on Wednesday in a way that it hasn't all season. Was that because Rondo wasn't in the game or because various Celtics were compensating for his absence?
"That's just what you're going to see, everybody touching the ball," Bradley said. "That's how we play in practice. It's hard to beat teams like that. I guess you can say it's like a soccer team. Everybody touches the ball and that's how we're playing. When everybody touches the ball they all get a feel and it's hard to stop a team when everybody's making shots and everybody's got confidence. That's how it was tonight."
6. People will read quotes like that and think they're subtle digs at Rondo. They're not. The truth is the Celtics have rarely played like that all season. There have been far too many one pass, isolated jump shot possessions and that's not so much on the facilitator as it is a collective failure to play "The Right Way" in the finest Larry Brown tradition. "You know, listen, that's how we have to play overall," Rivers said. "Just simple, good basketball; pass the ball, move the ball."
7. Playing simple is sometimes easier said than done. All it takes is one too many ISO Hero Ball moments for the bad possessions to stack up and suddenly you're playing from behind. Their margin for error is basically non-existent. A more dedicated defensive team than the Kings will pressure the ball, disrupt their sets and force them into playing difficult basketball and again there will be no alien magician around to conjure something out of nothing.
8. Paul Pierce does not have to be the point forward. He can be, he's capable of doing it, but he doesn't have to do it. Pierce had a strong game, scoring 16 points on 9 shots with 10 rebounds and 4 assists, but the key thing for Pierce is being a complete player, which he hasn't always been this season. "I got on Paul at the beginning of the game because I thought he was trying to be the facilitator," Rivers said. "He must've read some of your dumb-ass articles, and then once he started moving the ball, he was great. Because he's still our scorer. I said, ‘Paul, you're still our scorer, by the way.'"
9. The Celtics will probably be better in the short-term because their schedule is set up for them to win some games and they were beginning to play better even before Rondo tore his ACL. Sometimes the law of averages is in your favor.
10. They are motivated to play better without Rondo. Not because Rondo is moody or sullen or whatever, but because they have been a .500 team for 40-something games and pride inevitably kicks in once it gets done kicking your ass. They hear the trade rumors. They hear the cries that they are all done. They may not have the talent to back it up anymore, but they'll be damned if they don't try and they know it.