Tommy Heinsohn has probably been playing or coaching basketball since before you were born, so I would hope that everyone who listens to him at least respects his opinion. After all, he has won 10 championships and is a Boston Celtics legend.
Anytime he speaks, I listen, even when his comments are dripping with homerism. I'll admit that I have learned more about the psychology of basketball from him than I have anyone else in my life. The way Tommy describes the flow of a game is unlike anyone I've heard.
After last night's tankocalypse in the fourth quarter, Heinsohn went on the Comcast SportsNet postgame show and completely ripped Rajon Rondo for slowing the game down and essentially blowing the lead.
Rondo has developed bad habits from playing with Doc Rivers' teams. That was an experienced, elderly team, so they weren't pressing the issue; they executed plays to perfection," explained Tom Heinsohn.
"This team has to go and find opportunities without plays. They've got to be aggressive without plays because they don't execute that well yet."
That's fair and I don't think anyone that watched the game will disagree with that, since the Celtics slowed the tempo down to the speed of a snail late in the game. So, how do you solve the problem, Tommy?
"One of the things you do, and it's tough to do with a guy like Rondo, is you pull him out and put someone else in," proposed Heinsohn. "I don't care [that he's the captain]. That's what you have to do. You've got to pull him aside and talk to him. It's a bad habit that he has from playing with different types of players. He has to play the style that brings out the best in these current teammates."
And you know what, Tommy's right. This offense absolutely stinks late in the fourth period, and a very large chunk of the blame can be placed on the captain, Rajon Rondo. He has a tendency to slow the pace, which hinders the flow of Brad Stevens' offense.
"Psychologically, it's so important to keep the other team on its heels," explained Heinsohn. "Keep coming at them by attacking; don't let them feel like they're in the ball game."
About one month ago I published an article titled, "The Three Laws of Rajon Rondo." In that, I described how the offense has changed since Rondo returned from a torn ACL in mid-January. Most notably, I found that Rondo possesses the ball for a longer percentage of time than any other player in the NBA.
Now, this might not be surprising for anyone that has watched Rondo over the years -- he's a ball-dominant point guard -- but Brad Stevens' motion offense calls for constant ball and player movement.
"I think the more we can get movement prior to action, the better for us, whether it's ball or player movement," said Stevens. "If you get both, it's really good."
That has not happened since Rondo began to receive heavy minutes. Rondo possesses the ball 7.6 minutes per game, according to SportVU; but he is in control of the ball 22.9 percent of the time he is on the court, which leads the NBA and is the root of the problem late in games.
Rondo simply has the ball in his hands too often. During the fourth quarter, he has fallen into his old habits of walking the ball up the court and not initiating the offense earlier in the shot clock.
"[The Celtics are, up 10 points] and we walk the ball up the floor. We don't make the defense really play; we don't make a move," said Tommy Heinsohn. "[The other team] stands there, they look at you, and they think they've accomplished something. They're going to be the more aggressive team from there. You've got to bring the ball up and keep them on their heels. You can't let them stand up and take a deep breath if you're gonna win the game in the last quarter."
Heinsohn continued, "They've got to change the habit of finishing games the way they're finishing games. You've got to play as a team at that point and make the entire other team play defense, not just one or two guys -- five guys! If you only make them play defense for six seconds, they win!"
That's what happened last night: the Boston Celtics blew another big lead late in the game because of their inability to create offense. Let's take a closer look at the four-minute period during the fourth quarter that lost them the game:
Boston led 89-82 with 5:11 remaining, but with only 1:13 left, they were down 99-92, before Atlanta finished the game with their mesmerizing 25-to-8 run. What happened?
The ball began to stick in Rajon Rondo's hands for a ridiculously large period of time. Over that four-minute stretch, the Celtics had the ball for eight possessions, which lasted 109 seconds.
During that time, Rondo ran the offense as the point guard seven times and the Celtics didn't score a single basket. Part of the reason might be because the team went away from their regular offense, as Heinsohn explained, because Rondo was walking the ball up the court for all but one possession, which was a transition opportunity.
In the 94 total seconds Rondo ran the point, he possessed the ball for 69 seconds, or 73.4 percent of the time. While it's impossible to know the league or team average, it's fair to assume that this is an extraordinarily large amount considering the statistics found in my previously mentioned "Three Laws" article.
On average, Rondo started Boston's half court offense with about 15.8 seconds left on the shot clock and they attempted a field goal with around nine seconds left to go. In other words, the Celtics made the Hawks play actual defense for only 6.8 seconds per possession, which supports Tom Heinsohn's statement: "If you only make them play defense for six seconds, they win!"
This style of play may have worked during the Big 3 era, when every single play was run perfectly, but it won't work with this roster. In the past, Rondo could run the clock down, run an action, make a single pass, and then a quality shot could be attempted. These half court sets worked to perfection, which is why the team was so successful during that era.
But now, the Celtics can't rely on that style every possession, which is exactly what they've been doing recently. They need to continue to move their bodies and the ball to go from "good to great" on their shot selections. A possession may actually last longer with this philosophy, but starting the set earlier gives more time and therefore a higher probability of finding a good look during the action.
Rajon Rondo and the Celtics haven't been doing any of that down the stretch lately, which is one reason why they've lost nine in a row. Chances are that streak will continue all the way to 13 unless some quick revisions are made to the offense.