|Posted on January 3, 2013 at 7:45 AM|
I wonder what stage in the grief process I am at? What comes after acceptance? Bitter resignation? Last night I was grateful to the Grizz for not beating us down worse than they did. They had mercy. Maybe they were just afraid of the Garden crowd! It's a pretty sad state of affairs, obviously, when once considers being hammered by ten points, instead of twenty, a 'moral victory'. The Celtics seem to be in the middle of the opposite to a victory tour. Or perhaps it's like running a gauntlet. It seems that every team in the league is going to take revenge on us for for five years of humiliation.
For Rondo too, it's been a kind of anti-victory tour. He came into this season as an MVP candidate, and as arguably the acknowledged best point guard in the league. Now it's not clear that Rondo is even a top ten pg, and thoughts of MVP are laughable. It's not even clear that Rondo is capable of being a starting pg in the NBA anymore. Rondo can talk about lack of trust, about the return of Bradley, and folks not helping out all he wants, but the plain fact seems to be that, hip or no hip, he cannot stay in front of any other pg in this league. I compared him to Ernie No D not long ago. Incredibly, this former top defender now increasingly looks incapably of playing NBA caliber defense at all, much less elite defense. If you can't defend, at all, you just can't play in the NBA.
More and more, it looks like the haters were right. I continue to think that Rondo has Bird level talent, but the differences between them are increasingly stark. Bird was a weak one-on-one defender, much weaker than Rondo I'd say, but he was tough. He took every one-on-one challenger personally. He didn't care if it was Michael Jordan he was facing in an iso situation. He'd dig in - you could see it in his body language and face - and he'd use the talents he had, his size and his reflexes, and he made it tough on his opponent. Sheer determination does matter.
Now compare Rondo. We've seen what he can do when he does bear down. We saw him intimidate Lebron into a long shot to try to win a ECF game last year. The year before, we saw Wade look Rondo in the eyes before trying to take him off the dribble. Rondo not only beat Wade, but frustrated him so badly that Wade literally injured Rondo. But most of the time we don't see that. Against Wade, for example, Rondo got into an actual defensive stance, as I recall, and focused. Rarely does one see Rondo go into a defensive stance. Almost never. He rarely digs in against an opponent. He rarely fights through or over picks. He just almost never does these basic things. Opponents sail past him and wreck our defense.
Rondo, I get it that a big part of your game is lulling opponents. I get that. I also get it that you like to play your man loosely, allowing a defensively skilled big to distract him while you attack the ball or the passing lanes. I get that too. You like to play a kind of trapping defense. Sometimes you even seem to guide your man into a Big, setting them up for a blocked shot. I see too that when you are really on it, defensively, you get deflections all over the court and you cause havoc amidst opposing offenses. We fans aren't blind. We aren't as stupid as you may think we are. Or so I like to think. We do see a lot of what you are up to.
But we see important things you aren't doing too. You almost never pressure the ball, and when you do, you don't do it seriously. You almost never dig in against your man. You almost never fight through and over screens. You just don't do the basic things. You just don't. And then you blame the team's frustrations on lack of trust and help. But Rondo, you knew before this season started that the Bigs on this team were not going to be the power of the team as they were when Perk was here! We don't even have Stiemsma and JO anymore, not that they were great shakes! Apart from Garnett, we have an undersized bigs corps, which is not good at help D anyway. YOU HAD TO KNOW THIS!! Surely you had to see that for our defense to work, you guards would have to play harder. You'd have to dig in deeper and earlier. You'd have to make sure that by the time the guards got into the middle of our defense, shot clock would be counting down, they'd be tired and frustrated, and they'd be off balance.
Looking at this team this summer, you had to know that it was on the guards to take defensive pressure off the Bigs. The balance of the defense had to change.
On offense too you surely had to see that we could not play the same style we've played in recent years. Even when we had Ray Allen, the slow-down style wasn't working. Now it really, really doesn't work. We needed you to be aggressive. At least, initially, you actually took up the challenge on offense more. Not enough, but more. Then came the monstrous controversey over The Streak, where the media ripped your head off for having the temerity to challenge Magic, and it all seemed to confuse you. Then came the rise of Pierce, and you seemed even more confused about your role. Then came the Clippers game, and the total disaster of passive offense. Then came the injury. Now the offense is even worse than the defense, and both the team and you seem to be a lost cause.
It's funny to think that just a couple of weeks ago, Magic and Walton seemed to think that if you stepped up, this team could still win a championship. Now we seem most likely to win a lottery ticket, and you look more and more like trade bait.
And if Rondo is traded, how will he fare on another team? If Rondo can't play defense, and can't score the ball, how will he even stay in any starting unit not coached by Doc?
But Doc is part of the problem here, isn't he? Rondo clearly deserves a lot of the blame, since this is more than ever his team, but it seems like it was Doc who refused to consider changing any aspect of his system, such as it is, this year, despite the massive changeover in personnel. We were clearly built to be a high energy, aggressive team this summer. How can this not have been clear? But right from the start of preseason, it was also clear that we were going to play pretty much exactly the same way, no matter what. The only apparent concessions to change were that we played up tempo a little bit more, but not much, and we juggled lineups a lot, as if wildly searching for a lineup that worked.
The part that ticks me off the most is watching this team continue to totally give up on offensive boards. For God's sake, we clearly are NOT a precision team, so we clearly HAVE to at least try for offensive boards. THIS IS SO BASIC!!!! This is not 2008 anymore!!!!!! Will Doc EVER wake up to that fact? This team has to play more of a high energy game. But unfortunately, that may be impossible now. They've gotten into bad habits from which they have no hope of emerging.
If a turnaround is going to happen, it has to start with Rondo, and it has to happen on both ends of the court. Maybe, assuming his hip gets better, he can use the return of Bradley as a springboard to bring his game back to life. I still think he's one of the most talented players I've ever seen, and a lot of great current and former NBA players seem to agree. Rondo, you've worked your way into a lot of bad habits. That happens to even the most talented people at times, in all walks of life. It's not easy to work your way out of them, but you can. The thing is, it starts with acknowledging to yourself what you are doing wrong, and then attacking your own bad habits. And that starts with no longer defending your bad habits. Next time a reporter asks you about the defense, try not talking about help and trust, and try talking about how you need to focus on aggressive play against your man more, about how you are the point man on defense and about how it's up to you to blunt the opponent's attack. Bradley can help a lot, but you are the key.
Start talking about how, on offense, you've forgotten how the pressure you put on the opposing defense is what opens up things for your teammates. Talk about how you have to not only shoot more and attack the basket more, but about how each time you handle the ball, it is the best chance your team has to push and probe at the opposing defense, bending it out of shape and knocking it off balance.
The time is now. Plastic men are melting all around us. We have to find who we truly are. It's time for Rondo to really be Rondo, not the captive of all his - and Doc's - bad habits.