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EST. 2011

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Rondology: Basketball Isn't Football

Posted by paul on December 28, 2012 at 12:50 AM

In a way I'm grateful to the Celtics for not stringing us along before letting us down.  Now, to be fair, they played a jet-lagged game against the hottest team in the league, right after arguably their biggest win of the season.   Still, this game was pretty much over after maybe four minutes, and I was left with a cold and nasty-tasting mouthful of told-you-so.

i said after the Nets game that if we played against the Clippers the way we played against the Nets early in the first quarter, and during most of the third quarter, we'd get blown out.  Sadly, that's exactly what we did, as I saw it.   The silver lining, if there is one, is that it didn't look to me like we were beaten by a better team.  Rather I'd say that a listless team was beaten by a much livelier, and smarter, team.

Interestingly, Rondo and Chris Paul had pretty similar statistics for much of the game.   Rondo's might even have been considered better, since he had more rebounds and points.    That could be taken as an example of how deceptive stats can be.  The difference between the two players could not have been more decisive.   Every time Paul brought the ball up the court, he ran it and put pressure on the defense.  Then, once Paul got into the half-court, he rarely gave the ball up before putting some more  serious pressure on the Celtics' defense.  Paul pressured the defense this way virtually every single possession.  Rondo, by contrast, walked the ball up the court almost every single time, giving the defense plenty of  time to set.  Then, once he got into the halfcourt offense, he almost always gave the ball up without having put any significant pressure on the Clippers' defense.  Much of the time, especially early in the game when the Clippers pretty much took control in no uncertain manner, Rondo simply handed the ball off to Pierce, who then went into an iso play of some kind, which generally ended in either an awkward shot or an awkward pass.  What kind of offense is this?  Whom do we blame for it?  Doc?  Rondo?  Pierce?  All of them?

It would be bad offense even if Rondo wasn't our best player.  It takes the point guard out of the offense almost entirely.  But Rondo is our best player!   So you start off by taking your best player out of the offense.  So now your second best player has the ball.  He goes iso, which means he is certainly not taken out of the offense, but the other four players are now taken out of the offense.   Against a strong D, Pierce is likely to clang his shot, unless he is having a super hot night, which means that the Clippers go instantly into transition, since they know that the Celtics will not compete for the rebound.    The Clippers could not have hoped for a better Celtics game plan had they coached the Celtics themselves.  

Rondo didn't even play that badly.  He was actually in pretty good form, though he missed a lot of shots he normally would make.   I think he had four rebounds in the first quarter.  Usually, a lot of early rebounds means that Rondo is in good form.  His head was in the game, but he played very passive basketball.  I don't think that even the most blind Celtics fan can praise the Rajon Rondo we saw tonight.  This Rondo was NOTHING like Larry Bird.    This was more like the Rondo who suddenly declared in training camp that he was not this team's leader.  This was the Rondo who doesn't seem to want to take responsibility.  He doesn't seem to want the burden of being his team's best player.  

Doc and Rondo seem to love to compare basketball to football.  I wonder sometimes if this is part of the problem.  Rondo likes to think of himself as the quarterback, sitting in the back of the offense and waiting for the play to develope, then delivering the ball.   Doc loves the word "execution".   He likes an offense built around running patterns perfectly.   I think that maybe I'm falling out of love with those two guys.    I love the game of basketball for its spontaneity, for the emphasis it places on individual creativity and innovation, for the way it encourages self-expression.  Execution has a place in the game of basketball, of course, but vision and imagination count for a lot more.  Chris Paul shapes every possession like an artist, like a sculptor.  I used to think that Rondo did that.  I don't think I believe this anymore.  What I see now is a guy who shrinks from responsibility, a guy who - even worse - tries to rob basketball of its greatest qualities.  And what makes this so darned weird is that when Rondo is on, no one exemplifies the true greatness of the game of basketball more than he does.  It's so weird that he doesn't even seem to appreciate his own gift.  

I'm not sure I even care what happens on the rest of the road trip.  One play tonight exemplified the new perspective I gained on Rondo, and it must have sent the Haters into fits.  The game was really over, late in the third, but Rondo was FINALLY being more active and more aggressive.  Finally.   Now that the game was over, he finally decided to try to win it.  Larry Bird must be puking somewhere.

So Rondo is dribbling around, pressuring the defense like he should have done from the beginning, and he finds himself about 12 feet from the basket near the baseline, completely undefended.  Rondo looks at the basket, then looks around, waiting for his defender to come.  Isn't that amazing?  He actually waited for his defender.  But the Clippers just ignored him.  Yeah.  12 feet from the basket, and they dared him to make a play.  Finally Rondo passed off to someone not in a particularly good position to shoot, and the ball got passed a couple more times, and finally Terry, I think, heaved a well-defended perimeter shot.  It clanged.  

I'm sorry, but that was shameful, Rondo, and yet it seemed to reflect the way you played all game, and the way you have played far too often this year.  If you aren't the man to lead this team, we need to find someone who will lead it.   It really comes down to that, doesn't it?   This was supposed to be your year.  It was your team.  The player who almost led us to victory against Miami was the player we thought we'd see.  But we haven't seen much of that player.   Mostly we've seen a player who seemed to be waiting for something.  

Whatever you are searching for, Rajon, I hope you find it.  I'm not sure what a basketball team can do when its best player acts like it's fourth or fifth best player, or maybe like he's imagining that he's Tom Brady.  Rondo has had many chances this season to step up as this team's best player and leader.  He just hasn't done it, or he's done it only sporadically.  Superstars of the past have virtually begged him to step up.  He hasn't done it.  I just don't know what to think anymore.  The passive Rondo we saw tonight will not likely lead this team or any team to success, it seems to me, and I wonder at times if this passive Rondo is the norm, and the aggressive Rondo that can sometimes be so great is the exception. How long can we wait for Rondo to come into his own?   I'm beginning to think we've waited long enough.  If Rondo can't rise to the occasion in an important game, for a team that was crafted to suit him, against his key personal rival, what are we to think?

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