So, there it is. Two games for what looked like--in my humble, completely biased opinion--a "s'up" shove that lead to a lot of grabbing and a pull down into the crowd. Whether or not the punishment fits the crime, this is exactly what the Celtics needed.
Again, Rajon Rondo's been suspended 2 games by the NBA, according to Danny Ainge, who's on WEEI right now.— Greg Payne (@GregPayne_ESPN) November 29, 2012
There's something poetic about Rondo's assist streak ending on a night that will be remembered for that brawl. Thirty-seven straight double-digit assist games shows how important Rondo is to this team, but standing up to Humphries could be the most important dime RR throws all season. He'll certainly be missed on the court over the next week, but I think his actions will reverberate off the court for much longer. We can sugarcoat it and pretend that Rondo wanted to send a message to the Nets, but I doubt that Rondo planned his outburst. Woj argues that Rondo's loyalty was mostly misplaced and his combustibility shows poor judgement, but Rondo isn't the most conventional leader.
In training camp, he took on the responsibility of being the team's leader by scheduling informal practices and flag football games in LA and saying all the right things to the press, but his greatest attribute will always be an honest approach to the game. Rondo may have been ticked off by Humphries' cheap shot, but he's ultimately more frustrated with how the team is playing and that manifested itself into this suspension. What last night's fight and today's suspension does is put everything in the open. Since the start of the season, the team has been using all the right buzz words like "team chemistry" and "patience" to explain their lackluster performance. There's certainly some truth to that, but frankly, that's NBA public relations 101. Behind closed doors, I'm sure Rondo is mad as hell and last night, his frustrations got the best of him and it spilled out on the floor.
The circumstances seem similar to last season when Rondo, annoyed by a call, tossed a ball at a ref in Detroit and had to sit out two games before last year's All Star Game. The team was floundering at 15-15 and Rondo's suspension was rock bottom. There was a lot of soul searching during the break and when the team came back, it ripped off an impressive second half of the season that led to an inspired run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It's only late November now, but the team needed this kind of wake up call. Doc needed to call this team "soft." Jeff Green needs to hear how much of a disappointment he's been so far. Courtney Lee needed to get banged up a bit to wake him out of his slump. Fifteen games into the season and we still don't know who this team is.
Rondo has been playing at another level so far, but some of that can be attributed to the players that Danny has surrounded him with. In years' past, the Celtics had been relatively average on offense and mostly relied on their defense to win games. That was their signature. That was their calling card. That's where they got their mojo. However, last summer, Ainge signed more offensively minded players, players that could complement Rondo's ability to run and break down a defense in the half court. The team has played at a quicker pace and scoring points really hasn't been an issue so far.
But the flipside has been the team's loss of identity on the defensive end. Last season, the bench was comprised of players who would only see the court if they could play Celtics' D. That's what made Greg Stiemsma, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, and even Ryan Hollins so valuable; they weren't necessarily offensive threats, but they new the system and dedicated their playing time to playing D. Today's roster hasn't embraced that yet. We were all excited to finally have a roster with some versatility and athleticism that would translate to an easier time on offense, but this is still a "defense first" team. With Darko's departure, there isn't a goon on the roster, so it's going to be Doc's and more importantly, KG's, responsibility to direct Rondo's rage in the right direction. Avery Bradley's return will help, but until the team makes a real commitment to dig deep on D, I'd expect .500 ball for the rest of the year.
Garnett was on WEEI this morning and it sounds like the team's middle linebacker is already turning a corner:
More concerning to Garnett is the way the Celtics have played. The veteran big man says his team has to stop worrying about fouls and play with more physicality, especially on the glass. Brooklyn's 16 offensive rebounds were one reason Celtics coach Doc Rivers called his team "soft" after the game.
"There's only one way to respond," said Garnett. "I would never think that I would be on a team that would be called soft. I'm not a hardcore guy. I'm not a gangster or thuggish or anything like that. But I am what you call firm. I do play with a physicality.
"I don't really want to say that we're soft, because there's men in here. Where I'm from you don't call another man soft. ... Coach's assessment, it is what it is. Whether you take it as criticism or he's trying to make us better, it's your call."
I wouldn't want to be the Trailblazers tomorrow night or Milwaukee on Saturday. The Celtics will be without their starting point guard, but they'll be with their starting point guard.