|Posted by paul on December 27, 2011 at 9:50 AM|
Doc said that Rondo was the aggressor against the Knicks, and that that was a role the team wants Rondo to play on a regular basis. Rondo, characteristically, demurred, downplaying his role in Sunday's game, portraying himself as just a cog in Doc Rivers' tool chest. The apparent gap between Rivers' words and Rondo's words is worrying. Rondo's mood seems to fluctuate at times between brash confidence and self-doubt, and our season depends largely on his ability to keep his personal emotional guage somewhere in the middle. There's a time to be bashful, and this isn't it.
As I saw last year's playoff series between the Celtics and the Heat, the key turning point in favor of the Celtics came just before halftime of the second game. Many Celtic fans will remember the contretemps between Rondo and Rivers during a timeout. Most remember Rondo walking angrily away from the team's huddle, and Paul Pierce chasing after him to calm him down. What few seem to remember is that Rondo adopted a completely new attitude on the floor after that huddle, attacking the Heat relentlessly. He continued to do this in the third quarter, and led the Celtics back, much as he did against the Knicks on Sunday. The Celtics lost that game, because they went soft in the 4th quarter (something we've seen all too often). Also, Rivers gave Rondo a breather early in the 4th quarter of that game, and didn't let him back into the game for five minutes, even though Rondo had long since finished stretching out, and was obviously biting to get back in after just a couple of minutes. By the time Rondo got back into the game, it was lost. I feel certain that this sideline drama between Rondo and Rivers was what led to the bottle throwing incident at the film session the next day. These are two stubborn and proud men, who often don't see things the same way, and who clearly struggle over authority. Rondo, as has often been said, is really a coach on the floor in many ways. It is important that he and Rivers work hard at communicating more successfully this season. Theirs will always be a contentious and heated relationship. They can make this work for them, and for the team, instead of the other way around.
What Rondo showed in that series is what they need to remember tonight. Yes, the Heat are far and away the favorites to win the title this year. Yes, their skill and sheer athleticism is downright scary, and this year they seem hungry, focused and motivated. They come like a forest fire, and they make other teams feel like a field of harvest-ready wheat in the path. But you have to fight fire with fire. To have any chance of holding their own against the Heat, or of even prevailing, the Celtics need to attack, and they need to keep doing it even when there are setbacks, as there inevitably will be. The Heat are not the Knicks, but we don't have to start games soft and finish soft, as we did against the Knicks on Sunday, and as we too often did against the Heat in the playoffs last year. If Rivers and Rondo can figure out how to communicate better, without taming their relationship, the league, including the Heat may have to face a season of Rondo Unleashed. If that happens, and if these New Celtics (it's not the "Big Three" Celtics anymore, even though the Big Three are still there, still formidable) gel around the Rivers/Rondo rapport, especially newcomers like Brandon Bass, this really could be an exciting season.
Whether we win or lose tonight, what matters most is whether we, led by Rondo, play aggressive basketball, refusing to break down, or back down, under the hammer blows we know Lebron and Wade will deal out to us.