Game 2 was vintage Paul Pierce. Doc knew the team would have to rely on its defense like they've done all year, but on the offensive end, they put the game on the lumberjack shoulders of PP. It was great to see The Captain ratchet up his game one more time (#Truthing), but if we're being honest, that game was U. G. L. Y. Ugly. It lacked flow and continuity and reminded me of the final rounds of a heavyweight fight where boxers are dog tired and slugging for a knockout.
During the regular season, Boston ranked almost last in the league in free throws attempted at 19.8 and second in assists at 23.6. On Tuesday night, the Celtics shot 31 free throws (Pierce had 13 alone) and dished out 14 dimes as a team. A win is a win is a win, especially in the playoffs and especially on the road, but Boston isn't going to win a lot of games this post season with Pierce and Garnett playing over 40 minutes a game and trying to break down their man one-on-one on seemingly every possession. That just isn't Celtics basketball.
And that's where Rondo steps in.
By all accounts from practice today, the kid's ready. Here are a few choice tweets from some of the beat writers this morning:
Never one to back down, Rondo was asked if he feel like he let his teammates down. "No. Do you feel like I let them down?"— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) May 3, 2012
More Rondo: "I don’t have anything to prove. Why would I have anything to prove? I just want to win."— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) May 3, 2012
And scene: "The world knows what I can do. I’m just going to out do and play and do what I do best and be the best point guard in the NBA."— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) May 3, 2012
Doc says Rondo may act impulsively but it isn't coming from a selfish place. His intentions are good he says— Carolyn Manno (@carolynmanno) May 3, 2012
#Celtics guard Rajon Rondo on bump: It was a heat-of-the-battle moment. I wanted to win. I made a mistake. I’m not on trial (here).— Scott Souza (@scott_souza) May 3, 2012
Could he be more contrite about putting the team in a tough spot, needing to steal a win on the road without Ray Allen already out of the lineup? Sure, but what Rondo says publicly and what he does and says behind-the-scenes seems to suggest otherwise. This morning, Doc was talked with Dennis & Callahan on WEEI about Rondo's maturity:
"I was really happy, going onto the bus, Rondo was standing outside the bus door waiting for every teammate to shake their hand and said, 'thank you,'" Rivers recalled.
Added Rivers: "It was really cool to see him do that. I mean, he waited there for each guy and just shook their hand and said, 'thank you.' You could tell he was really emotional about it. It was really nice."
Scott Souza has a great piece in the MetroWest today about chronicling Pierce's early frustrations and paralleling them with Rondo's recent "predilection for petulance."
Five days after his epic effort in Indiana in 2005, Pierce had one of his lowest moments as a Celtic. Late in a must-win Game 6, Pierce was ejected for throwing an elbow at Jamaal Tinsley, and proceeded to take of his uniform top, twirl it around as he exited the floor to a chorus of boos from the Indiana crowd, and mocked the incident at a postgame press conference when he showed up wearing a makeshift bandage on his jaw.
The Celtics won the game in OT, but lost the series, and Pierce endured a summer of turmoil when trade rumors swirled, and most were convinced he'd never have what it takes to be a true leader.
Pierce has often said he knew right then - for all his talent - there was something within him that had to change.
Seven years later, he is a champion, an NBA Finals MVP and the second-leading scorer in franchise history whose number will one day hang from the TD Garden rafters.
Now it's time for Rondo, whose stubbornness has often caused him to forge his own path in the game, to follow in the footsteps of a teammate who was once in his shoes, learned from his mistakes, and is still adding chapters to his legacy all these years later.
Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of people being overly critical with Rondo. Writers bemoan his immaturity and some fans are adamant that he can't carry a team when the Big Three are gone. I'm not excusing his behavior, but what some mistake as "petulance" and "immaturity," I take as competitive fire and a will to win. People really take that for granted. If you take a snapshot of all the floundering teams in the NBA and I'll bet that with all those lottery-bound cellar dwellers, you might find one guy, maybe two, on each team that plays with the same intensity as Rondo does. He reminds me so much of Bird: a guy that didn't so much love winning, but really hated losing.
And there's also the pure basketball argument to be made. Charles Barkley called Rondo "the engine that stirs the drink" in Boston. Game 2 proved that. I did some number crunching with all the games against the Hawks this season (except for the April 20th contest where Doc decided to rest his starters) and the stats are startling:
In the two regular season wins and the Game 1 loss, Rondo's presence on the court generated the proverbial "easy bucket." According to HoopData.com, Boston was 10-18, 17-31, and 14-23 at the rim in those games. In Game 2, they were 7-14. In terms of assists, Rondo accounted for 13 of the 21, 20(!) of the 28, and 11 of the 21. In Game 2, the Celtics only had a total of 14 assists with Pierce and KG dishing 4 and 5 respectively.
Before Game 2, Doc talked about how Rondo's absence most affects Brandon Bass. Bass' mid-range game is Rondo's release valve when he penetrates the paint and the numbers prove out. Against the Hawks, BB has gone 4-7 (Rondo assisting on all four shots), 10-17 (Rondo assisting on 6 shots), and 3-7 (Rondo assisting on 2 shots). If anybody's looking forward to Rondo's return tomorrow night, it's Bass.
It's a completely different game when Rondo's on the court. A couple of readers commented yesterday how they liked how quickly Avery Bradley initiated the offense as the starting PG. That's a little bit of a misconception. Right now, ball-handling isn't Avery's strong suit and when he had a straight line to half court, he either speed dribbled and looked for Pierce or took it straight to the rack to drive and create contact. With Rondo, you get a more probing, patient point guard. He better understands the pace of the game and is more adept at finding cutters and the open man and calling sets.