This is a Boston Celtics message board. You remember the Celtics. Through the years, they've arguably been associated with team basketball more consistently than any other franchise. They've won as a team. They've lost as a team. For better or worse, almost never have their fortunes been tied mainly to one player, despite a fairly constant procession of superstars and hall-of-famers through their ranks. They've never had a league scoring champion, but they've had plenty of league assist champions. The Celtics’ collaborative approach to basketball is so deeply engrained that it qualifies as a tradition.
Consequently, it really bothers me when I see any one Celtic player singled out as THE source of positives OR negatives associated with the team. With the Celtics, it’s NEVER just one player. And that has never been more true than in the case of Rajon Rondo.
The current question making the rounds should not be whether the Celtics are better off with or without Rondo. The question should be whether the Celtics are better off with the type of play they’re now employing—whatever mix of factors has brought it about. Clearly, the answer is yes. And I understand that there’s a natural inclination to play the blame game.
But there’s usually more than one factor involved in everything that happens to the Celtics. And more than one factor is affecting their new style of play. As BobH and others have noted, the defensive improvement began well before Rondo was lost for the season. I’ve been bellyaching all season long because the offense was so stagnant. Was that solely due to Rondo, or was there some reason beyond his control that made him pound the ball outside? Is Rondo responsible for motivating his teammates to move without the ball, move the ball, and space the floor well…or is that Doc’s job? Should the players new to the team have made more of an effort to get into the swing of things, or were any such attempts hampered by the complexity of the defense and the aforementioned stagnation of the offense? You can bet your life that all of those factors, and others, played a role in a season that seemed to be going nowhere until Rondo (and, shortly thereafter, Sully) left the team.
So what has been responsible for the very quick turnaround in the past four games? Is it simply that they could be better off without Rondo? That’s not the constructive way to look at it.
Have you ever played musical chairs? Every time a chair is removed, what happens? The remaining participants become more alert and anticipatory, and you can see them ready to pounce at any moment on the chairs that remain. They become increasingly invigorated by the adrenalin the diminishing number of chairs is blasting through their bodies. Things become more simplified, as there are increasingly fewer chairs on which to concentrate. Out of the corners of their eyes, they watch their opponents for any advantage on which they can capitalize.
Right now, the Celtics are both the victims and the beneficiaries of a game of—let’s call it musical balls. They’re all good athletes; they know how to play the game; and they have the capacity to play team ball—Celtics ball. But now, their immediate goals (or roles) have become magnified, simplified, and clarified. And guess what has happened. The ball game has changed, and there are now just as many musical balls as players, so they can forget about concentration on the scarcity of balls and play with the abandon and freedom associated with rewarding collaboration.
Yes, it happens that the loss of Rondo was arguably the most pervasive that could ever have been inflicted on this team. It wasn't that he unilaterally did a lot of hardheaded, bad things. I believe he tried very hard (and understandably became sporadically disillusioned about the lack of success). And, as he searched for ways to be a better leader, he got into some habits that proved counterproductive; and his teammates accorded him greater deference as the team became increasingly Rondo-centric. It turned out that he was both a victim and a partial cause of circumstances.
Ironically, it is the very magnitude of Rondo's loss that has ultimately resulted in better focus, motivation, anticipation, circling of the wagons, and readiness to capitalize on opportunities. And hopefully, it has driven home to Doc the fact that this is a virtual blueprint for the manner in which the game should be played in order for a team like this to succeed—with or without Rondo. And, when Rondo returns, and depending on how the musical chairs are arranged next season, here’s hoping the lessons now being learned will continue to guide their play—with Rondo being the one who is asked to fit in as one of the team leaders rather than being given the independent mantle of lord of the manor.
Go Celtics! And take care, everyone.
Sam's Celtics Forum