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The Big Four: A Story In Search of an Ending

Posted by paul on February 17, 2012 at 3:45 PM


When the Big Three came together, one of the reasons it worked out so well seems to have been that each guy could be said to 'own' a sector of the Court. Paul owned the right elbow, KG owned the left elbow, and Ray owned the wings. Secondarily Paul owned the heart of the lane, KG owned the left block, and Paul and Ray owned the top of the arc. Ray also had a pretty good hold on the baseline. The Three were complementary in other ways. Ray needed picks and KG loved to set them. Ray was the man of perpetual motion, KG was the master of the pick and roll, and Pierce was the iso guy, the guy who could make it up as he went along, hit the crazy shot at the buzzer, etc. All three were excellent passers. Perkins was happy to set picks, take up space, and try not to fumble bunnies. Rondo fit in well too. As a scorer, he was mainly an opportunist. As a distributor, he was doing something he loved to do, and it was an area that gave him room to grow.


 This basic formula, together with 'ubuntu', brought us a championship, and could have yielded more. But as the years went buy, Rondo was less comfortable with a narrow supporting role. Meanwhile, the Big Three were aging;   still effective, they were slowly becoming less effective. And  teams started sagging off Rondo. Most of the time the Celtics could compensate for all this with their wizard-like passing, and Rondo found a space he could grow into there. But still, at times, opposing defenses were able to  make the Celtics' half-court seem hopelessly congested. This became worse after The Trade, because The Trade hit Boston where it hurt them the most; it diminished their cohesion. Ubuntu itself began to break down.



As I see it, that brings us to where we are now. Going into this season, it was apparently decided that the biggest (or perhaps most do-able) upgrade the Celtics needed was a point guard who could shoot better than Rondo. It was thought that this would stop the sagging and thus ease congestion. The resulting seemingly desperate attempt to shop Rondo was another hammer blow to Ubuntu. It was obvious that the Big Three were complicit in this effort, and Rondo apparenlty felt hurt and alienated from the entire organization, though he handled it like a pro.

Rondo came out of the preseason determined to prove himself on so many levels. He wanted to prove 1) that he could be a shooter/scorer and 2)that he could be the cornerstone of the Celtics future. Rondo’s first two games were splendid, except for one thing: his teammates did not rise to his leadership, and that seemed to leave him feeling even more alienated. Then Paul Pierce rode back in from the injury list, like a knight in white armor. He was out of shape, but no one even thought to blame him for this (though Rondo was in great shape, by comparison). The team responded to Pierce's return and started winning.


 Of course, the increasingly familiar friction between Rondo and Pierce soon began to raise its head, and the Celtics began to lose again. Then Rondo went down with injury, and Pierce joined hands with Bradley to lead the rest of the team to a roaring 8 game resuscitation of the season. Rondo seemed utterly irrelevant, suddenly.


The story goes on from there, of course. Rondo came back, seemed to redeem himself, then fell on his face vs the Lakers and Toronto, then stormed back in a halo of glory, only to find once again that the team did not seem to accept his leadership. Now we find ourselves mired in yet another losing streak, with ubuntu  a wistful memory of long ago and far away. It seems that the rise of Rondo as an offensive player has made the Celtics halfcourt even more congested. No one knows who should have the ball, no one can get open, and with Bigs going down, defense and rebounding are increasingly things we can only dream about (rebounding more than defense, obviously). But at the heart of this story are two amazing players, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, locking horns. Basically, if one guy has the ball, the other is sulking. Every once in a while, the two connect on a play, and it’s real magic. But those moments seem rare. Last night, against Chicago, Paul drove the lane, got surrounded, and then in the blink of an eye Rondo flashed to the basket, Paul saw him and dished the ball to him, and it was an easy two. That was pretty special. One would like to see more of that.


 Maybe it would help if Rondo could somehow find a bread and butter play of his own. If he could get that post up thing really really working, that might be the one. Then maybe we could return to that rough division of the floor we once had. Right now, Rondo is pretty amazing at a lot of ways of scoring, but doesn’t actually OWN one. He might own the post if he could establish position closer to the lane before getting the ball.

I know it sounds ridiculous to speak of a 6'1" player 'owning' the post but, as Steve Kerr has repeatedly said, Rondo is unique.  


 But basically, these guys have to find their way back to ubuntu before they can redefine the character of this team, and from that point maybe redeem the rest of the season. Sadly, so far, there’s no indication that they are on the verge of doing this. But I say it’s a work in progress, and they should certainly have the rest of this season to try to do it.


 I don't know if Danny will give them that. Apparently there are renewed indications of both Rondo and Pierce possibly being on the trading block. Rondo may be most likely to go ...


Rondo’s name has continued to come up in trade rumors, most recently involving Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol. A player’s name doesn’t come up in ongoing rumors unless someone is making calls involving that player, and multiple front office sources have confirmed to HOOPSWORLD that the Celtics are initiating these talks.

The issue in Boston is clear; their older core of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett is in its final season, and they have to start thinking about the future. Rondo is a great talent, but he is not a team leader. He’s not a communicator who rallies the team on the court, and he’s not a personality that’s going to draw free agents to Boston. In short, the Celtics may be better off using him as a trade piece that lands multiple key pieces rather than counting on him to lure additional talent into town next summer.


I don't know how reliable this report is, but it sounds like it might be right.   Presumably Danny has noticed what many fans have noticed; that there is a power struggle going on between Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, and, while Rajon may have been picking up some ground lately, he does not seem to have Pierce's ability to lead a team (one may wonder if Pierce always had that ability, but oh well...). Rondo seems to try, but he doesn't seem to be a natural communicator. The situation may change though, if he keeps playing the way he's been playing, and Pierce keeps sulking. I suspect that at least one guy on the team, Wilcox, already considers Rondo to be a good communicator.

Ben Rohrbach asks the question many of us are asking: IS IT REALLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR OUR TEAM'S TWO BEST PLAYERS TO FIND SYNERGY TOGETHER?!


           Rajon Rondo couldn’t be hotter, averaging 28.0 points, 9.7 assists and 7.3 boards in the past three games.

Paul Pierce couldn’t be colder, averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds in his past four games.

And the Celtics are 1-4 in their past five games. 


There’s a clear correlation between one having a great game and the other having an off night.

Rondo when Pierce >15 points (8 games): 8.5 PPG, 9.0 FGA (44.4%), 2.3 FTA, 10.6 APG, 3.9 RPG

Rondo when Pierce <15 points (13 games): 19.4 PPG, 14.2 FGA (51.1%), 6.5 FTA, 8.9 APG, 5.7 RPG

Pierce when Rondo >15 points (6 games): 9.5 PPG, 10.0 FGA (33.3%), 3.2 FTA, 3.8 APG, 3.2 RPG

Pierce when Rondo <15 points (20 games): 19.7 PPG, 14.9 FGA (42.8%), 6.0 FTA, 5.9 APG, 5.7 RPG

... the Celtics are 0-3 without Pierce and 6-2 in Rondo’s absence.  Is that to say the Celtics are better without Rondo? Absolutely not. They just haven’t figured out how to maximize the impact of one player entering his prime and another entering the so-called twilight of his career. When one’s been hot, the other’s not.

Is it possible for both to be in attack/create mode at the same time?



 Do these concerns sound familiar? Yup, we talk about them around here all the time. Ben's proposed solution will sound familiar too. He cites two games where both Pierce and Rondo had outstanding nights, and points out that the Celtics attacked the basket both nights.  The Celtics have two of the best penetrators in the league in Pierce and Rondo, and both love to pass.  One would almost expect them to attack the basket all night long, but all too often the team dances around the perimeter, settling for Js.


 I truly hope that these two guys are not locked into a hopeless drama that could poison Rondo's career and possibly poison Pierce's last Celtics years too. Together, they could write a much better ending to the story of the Big Four. Danny, please give them the rest of the season to try to do this, and Doc, please get through to these guys that if they approach this situation in the right spirit, both can have better seasons, and the team can be better, and we might just develop an offense to be reckoned with.





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Reply Franklin
5:33 PM on February 17, 2012 
Pierce has changed his game before when the big three came together. So why not with Rondo?
Reply paul
5:39 PM on February 17, 2012 
Franklin says...
Pierce has changed his game before when the big three came together. So why not with Rondo?

Exactly! And if the goal was to win a championship then, and to play better team ball, why not now?
Reply Thomas
11:34 PM on February 17, 2012 
I like your view Paul. Show me a in depth post like this anywhere,but u won't see it. As for Pierce, why wouldn't he want Rondo to take the team? Pierce should have one goal,and that's winning titles. Has catching John Havilcek got to his head.
Reply paul
11:55 PM on February 17, 2012 
Thomas says...
I like your view Paul. Show me a in depth post like this anywhere,but u won't see it. As for Pierce, why wouldn't he want Rondo to take the team? Pierce should have one goal,and that's winning titles. Has catching John Havilcek got to his head.

Thanks, Thomas. The way I see it, ushering in the next generation is a big part of the Celtics tradition.