When Rajon Rondo tore the ACL in his right knee at the end of January, the entire Celtics community was hit hard by the news. This writer was particularly devastated, having supported the man wearing number 9 wholeheartedly since he began as a talented, raw point guard that has transformed into Mr Triple Double, a perennial All-Star and league-leading assist distributor.
The injury meant a complete reshuffle of the roster, with Danny Ainge failing to secure a suitable point guard for the short-term. This in turn resulted in point play from Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa and Paul Pierce over the rest of the 2012/13 season. When the Celtics won 16 of their next 22 games after Rondo went down, many outside the Celtics organisation claimed Boston were better off without their All-Star point guard. Look no further than the 2013 Playoffs to see how wrong those people truly were. In Games 1, 2 and 3 of the series against New York, Boston struggled tremendously on offense in all games.
In the first two games, one thing that stood out was the lack of movement from all four players without the ball on the offensive end, all waiting for Paul Pierce to make the plays single-handedly. While The Truth is lethal with that mid-range pull-up shot, the team couldn’t afford to rely on one play alone for an entire half of basketball. The glaring hole left by Rondo was there for everyone to see, with almost no ball movement and hesitation from all players on the floor resulting in many turnovers, and a miserable total of 25 second half points in Game 1, and a franchise-low 23 second half points in Game 2.
Rondo’s absence meant his teammates weren’t playing with the same rhythm, or were playing out of position. Avery Bradley played out of his comfort zone in the series against New York, with Coach Rivers understanding this wasn’t an ideal situation, telling ESPN:
“…we’re asking Avery to pressure, pressure, pressure, and then try to do something that he’s not. Avery’s a good basketball player, but we never wanted him to be in the position of facilitating offense, seeing that guys aren’t set, and trying to get guys in the right spots, delivering the pass on target — a lot of that. We’re asking a lot”
Although Bradley is a great defensive guard, he does his best work on the offensive end by moving off the ball, slashing along the baseline and cutting to the basket. Unfortunately this was sacrificed in Rondo’s absence. Another teammate who did not look like himself at season’s end was Kevin Garnett. Brian Scalabrine (The White Mamba) attributes Garnett’s struggles to Rondo’s absence, telling CSNNE.com:
“…what I see is Rajon Rondo is not on this team anymore,” Scalabrine said. “Rajon Rondo can get KG a wide open look when he has the extra time. In the NBA a foot makes a difference, an inch makes a difference whether you make the shot or miss the shot. KG is taking more contested shots now than he did before. Rondo always had that ability to get Kevin Garnett his rhythm, and now he doesn’t, so Kevin has to fabricate his own rhythm.”
Due to the nature of Rondo’s unpredictable game, he could drive to the basket in a flash to lay-in, assist or kick the ball outside to spread the floor for his teammates. The improved mid-range jump shot Rondo displayed this season also meant opponents needed to guard him a bit closer outside, adding another dimension to his game. With his pin-point passing, Rondo could find teammates like Bradley and Lee cutting to the basket, find Garnett or Wilcox inside for an easy finish, or catch Bass, Terry, or Pierce on the wings for open jumpers.
Danny Ainge had this to say about Rondo to WEEI:
“Great players at this time really step it up and our guy that was our best player last year in the playoffs, a guy that had 44 at Miami, that got us to the position that we were, that has been the MVP of multiple playoff series over the last handful of years — not just playoff games, but playoff series — he’s a guy that’s certainly capable of being the best guy on the court on any given night. He’s a terrific player and we certainly miss him. We’ve been saying that all year long”
The thing we miss most with the absence of Rondo is the toughness and determination he plays with in the post-season, seamlessly stepping up his game for the playoffs every year. His performances in the post-season are something to marvel at, from his Finals performances in 2010, to playing out a series despite a dislocated elbow against the Miami Heat in 2011. His leadership, athletic ability and will to win are attributes that make him such a great player to watch, and one that we cannot wait to see back on the court for the 2013/14 season and beyond.