|Posted by paul on December 22, 2012 at 12:00 PM|
After the giddiness of summer expectations, some sobering moments came as early as training camp, not only via embarrassing losses, but more importantly, in the form of two comments Rondo made, in the early days.
Rondo said that he was not this team's leader. That declaration came as a bit of a shock, because this whole season seemed to be built around the premise that Rondo WOULD be the leader, expectations not just dreamed up by giddy fans, but also based on the team's moves and words. So one had to think; if our leader isn't going to lead, who is? Unfortunately, this comment from Rondo, about not being the leader, has turned out to be prophetic. Although Rondo has been more consistent this year than in year's past, and even though he has embraced the role of leader more than he has in the past, I fear that he has pleased his haters more than his fans overall. Instead of being the player known for giving his team whatever it needed on a particular night, he became a player who could not seem to figure out what his team most needed. Sometimes he played tought defense, other times he didn't. Sometimes he rebounded like a big. Sometimes he didn't. Sometimes he scored, sometimes he didn't. And so on. At least he always assisted well, but even that became controversial, not entirely through Rondo's fault. Rondo's game has been all over the place so far this season. It's all seemed a bit random. He can't seem to focus on anything.
Also, when asked if his statistics this season would match his statistics during the Miami series, Rondo said that they probably would not. While I generally try to fight against overemphasis on statistics, I really struggle to understand why Rondo would declare himself to be the best player in the game, and possibly even an MVP candidate, with 12 and 12 averages! For what it's worth, he has his highest PER ever, so far this season, but such averages bespeak at best an allstar player, especially in view of Rondo's defensive struggles. I guess it's one of Rondo's weird mind games that he simulataneously tries to build up and tear down expectations. I'm the best in the league, but don't expect too much...
And of course, we DO ask a lot from him. But it's not just crazy Rondo groupies doing this, is it? Walton is just the latest in a long line of people who ought to know something about greatness who have praised Rondo to the skies, while expressing also a note of disappointment. Have we ever seen a player capable of soaring to such heights, who was also capable of flying so low? Last night seemed to be a case in point. Now it has to be re-emphasized that a really bad game by Rondo now is a game where he has 11 assists, and four steals, while holding his opposite number down. So far this year, Rondo hasn't had a single Jarrett Jack game. Let's keep that well in mind.
But when you are the best player on a team with championship hopes, not totally disappearing isn't good enough, is it? You are expected to lead your team every night. They need you to do it. 8 shots last night? Our offense is built around Rondo's ability to penetrate and draw defenders. In fact, he draws defenders all over the court. If he isn't aggressive, we are left with Pierce trying to play hero ball, and everyone else standing around.
Magic Johnson recently said that Rondo needed to score twenty to twenty five points per game for the Celtics to succeed this year. I am not sure Rondo needs to score that many, but I think Johnson is on the right track. It's Rondo being a threat that opens up much of his passing game. He seems to want to sit back like a football qb and toss the ball downfield for the score, picking the best option. That's ok sometimes, but football is a different game. Basketball is a game of improvisation. We know that Doc is obsessed with his intricate patterns, and perhaps what Rondo needs is a different coach who is less that way, but the game remains fundementally a game based making a move, seeing how the defense reacts, and then making more moves. The weird thing is that Rondo's game is, at its best, possibly the finest expression of this art of spontaneity that we have ever seen. But much of the time, he forgets. I've suspected that Rondo is trying to protect his fg percentage, because it is higher than Ray Allen's. If that's true, it's so unfortunate. Ray Allen is taking gimmes all night long. He doesn't have to make the offense work, because he has Lebron to do that.
So I'm sorry, but if I see only 8 shots from Rondo, I want to see maybe 12 rebounds, or 8 steals, or some reason to think that the aggression that might have gone into attacking the basket has just gone somewhere else for some reason, and even then I'd be dubious. After the game Rondo said this:
Asked if Celtics players had to look themselves in the mirror, Rondo brushed off that somewhat hackneyed suggestion.
"Well, we've said that plenty of times," said Rondo. "I just try to speak for myself and just try to continue to lead. I just try to lead by example by going out there and playing as hard as I can. I can only do so much, [Paul Pierce] can only do so much, Kevin [Garnett]. So we've just got to keep searching and, like I said, we'll eventually get it.
"If not, we're looking at being a .500 team."
Rondo, if you guys don't start playing with more consistent passion and urgency, you'll struggle to be a .500 team. Today you are at .500. Next game you go under that mark, at this rate, and you may never see it again this season. But. more importantly, please don't stand there and tell us that you blame yourself, while at the same time blatantly absolving yourself! Come on.
Rivers said that the Cs had the shots they wanted and just couldn't make them ...
... This is typical of Rivers, of course, he of the "it's a make or miss league" school of thinking. But Doc, please don't stand there and hand us that crap and expect to call it a nugget of gold. When a guy who can't hit a shot all night takes twice as many shots as the guy who is the centerpiece of your offense, your best player, the guy that opposing defenses genuinely fear, PLEASE don't stand there and tell us that you got all the shots you wanted.
I wonder sometimes if Doc and Rondo have basically been on autopilot, while waiting for Bradley to return, and Danny to make deals. When Danny put this team together over the summer, I think we all thought that the new players signaled major changes in the team's approach. But so far, the only real concession to the deeper lineup, from Doc, seems to be constantly changing lineups, and 'small ball'. We knew it would be a challenge to distribute roles to a wider group of players, on a team that has tended to focus tightly on a small group of players. We thought that two guys, in Doc and Rondo, who are famous for their basketball IQs, would be able to handle these adjustments, while designing creative ways to blend folks' talents. Instead we seem to see a lot of the old walk-it-up-and-run-folks-off-screens offense, the Ray Allen offense without Ray Allen. Either these guys just don't have the basketball IQs we've been led to believe they have, or something. They almost seem to be waiting for this team to take its final shape.
And I want to comment too on the Jeff Green injury. What the heck is going on with this team? Not only does Jeff get hammered viciously a the Bucks player, but he gets pushed around AFTER the injury - and no Celtic player comes over to at least push the Bucks creepo off Green? Look, I'm far from being a tough guy, and I'm not saying that I'd get up in anyone's face either, but this team isn't just soft. Really, I can't even say in words what I think of a team that allows other teams to do that kind of crap to teammates. It's disgusting and it's a sign of why we are so lousy. Your teammate gets viciously hammered, and then punked on top of it, and you just watch that? Well, hell, no wonder you can't beat anyone.
A tough road trip lies ahead. It's a chance for this team to find the urgency, and the esprit, that has been missing so far, or that has flickered into life at times, only to fade again. Who knows what latenight conversation in a hotel room can create a bridge between two players who were struggling to find each other on the court. The potential is still there.