|Posted by paul on March 4, 2013 at 6:15 AM|
On one hand, it's been amazing, almost miraculous, to watch the Rondo-less Celtics rise from and through the ashes of season-ending injuries. Everyone has contributed to this, but four players have been particularly important: KG, PP, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. All of those players have seriously elevated their games since Rondo went down, and others have as well. What's been painful about this is that the team we are seeing now is in many ways exactly the team we anticipated seeing last summer, but we anticipated seeing this with Rondo.
It's interesting to consider how things might look and what might have happened had the Celtics last three games with Rondo gone differently. What if Pierce hadn't given up the ball on the silly trap at the end of the Chicago game? Or what if the ref who apparently hates Rondo and the Celtics had made the TO call that Rondo was apparently loudly demanding in his ear? Then what if Pierce and Terry hadn't conspired - as it almost appeared - to repeatedly hand the Knicks game back to the Knicks after Rondo appeared to win it? And what if Rondo hadn't gotten hurt in the Atlanta game, possibly as early as the first half(?), and if we'd never given up the huge lead, or at least if we'd won it on the back of a traditional Rondo overtime takeover? We might have gone 3-0 in big games heading into the Miami game.
But Rondo did go down, and a collective sigh of relief seemed to go through the team - mingled with more or less sincere regret - and everyone stepped up a big step in the rotation and in the scheme, and everyone seemed very happy with that, and the team became a gutsy, tough juggernaut. We've seen players indirectly blame Rondo for previous problems, and we've seen media types pour it on against Rondo as the team has sustained its amazing streak of wins and near wins. We've also seen players and ex-players, like Kobe, Cousy and Scalabrine, speak up to defend Rondo, along with Celtics management and ownership. Much of the scorn poured out on Rondo is ubelievably hateful. For guys like Ryan to demean Rondo who, whatever his faults, clearly loves team ball, clearly is gutsy, and clearly loves to win, is really despicable. But even Rondo's staunchest defender, Scalabrine, has had to acknowledge that Rondo has serious shortcomings.
That's what makes Bradley's rise even more startling. In some ways, Bradley is the anti-Rondo. Where Rondo is openly boastful, but privately insecurity ridden (it appears), Bradley is openly humble, and quietly prideful to the point of astonishing arrogance. Where Rondo plays a loosey-goosey style of defense, where the idea is to channel a player into the hands of active Bigs like KG and Perkins, while attacking the ball from behind, Bradley plays right in an opposing guard's shirt, all over the floor, relentless and almost demonic. Here again, the vicious carping of Rondo's haters has been despicable. They claim that Rondo's approach to defense is simply lazy. Their perception is what is lazy. But it's hard to deny that for much of this season, Rondo's approach to defense seemed irresponsible and even delusional, as he seemed to rely on Bigs that simply weren't there. Unlike Rondo, Bradley rarely demands the ball, and when he does get the ball, he quickly does something with it, or he gives it up. Rondo developed that painful habit of controlling the ball ALL the time, constantly wasting shot clock, frustrating both fans and teammates.
Above all, Avery Bradley is CONSISTENT. You know what you are going to get with him, and you get it every single game. On offense, he is opportunistic. On defense, he is relentless. Scalabrine referenced Derek Rose, when trying to explain the difference that consistency makes. He didn't need to go that far. He could have just pointed to Avery Bradley. There is an awful lot that Rajon Rondo can learn from Avery Bradley.