Rajon Rondo's getting suspended for this. Sorry, he just has to. There's no spinning this one. The rules clearly state that intentionally bumping an official is grounds to be held out for one game, and while Rondo's doing his damnedest to convince the world he did nothing intentional, that won't fly with the league office. Face it: Rondo won't be around for Game 2.
The tougher question, though, is what this latest Rondo snafu means for the Celtics in the bigger picture.
We've witnessed countless moments over the last few years in which Rondo has come off as irrational, immature, insecure, confrontational or otherwise unfit to be the leader of a championship NBA team. It's got to be wearing on everyone around him. The Celtics' roster is packed with future Hall of Famers, and their coaching staff and front office alike are brimming with great basketball minds, but Rondo's the straw that stirs the drink, and all of them know it. Their championship fates are being held hostage by a volatile, unpredictable 26-year-old. At times like this, you can't imagine they're happy about it.
We live in a superstar-driven world. LeBron James got millions of viewers for his "Decision," Chris Paul forced his way to the Clippers, Carmelo Anthony not only went to the Knicks but squeezed his coach out to boot, and now Dwight Howard may get his coach axed as well. The Celtics don't have any megastars of quite that caliber, but Rondo's the closest thing they've got.
So when Rondo messes up like he did last night in Atlanta, the Celtics are forced to cover for their guy. That's why Doc Rivers stepped to the podium last night and said he doubted Rondo would be suspended, since referee Marc Davis was equally to blame for bumping into Rondo. Did Doc actually believe his own words? Probably not, but he's a veteran coach and he knows the value of saying the right things publicly.
Behind the scenes is another story. Doc probably gave Rondo an earful behind closed doors later, and knowing the long, tumultuous relationship those two have had, the incident probably doesn't bode well for the Celtics' chemistry in the days -- maybe even weeks -- ahead. Rondo and Rivers, not to mention a particularly vocal veteran named Kevin Garnett, are headstrong individuals. They're stubborn. They don't let these things go; on the contrary, they snowball them.
Just in case you needed a quick refresher course, here's a rundown on Rondo's rocky relationship with the Celtics over the last three years:
May 17, 2009: Rondo shows up absurdly late for Game 7 of a playoff series against the Orlando Magic. Whether it was 30 minutes before game time or 45, that depends on whose account you believe; either way, not acceptable. Rondo manages to put up a 10-10-6, but the C's get blown out by 19 on their home floor and Orlando ends up winning the East.
June 22, 2009: Danny Ainge offers up Rondo and Ray Allen to the Detroit Pistons for Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey, according to Adrian Wojnarowski's sources. The deal breaks down; word gets out and Rondo catches wind of it. Not good.
Feb. 24, 2011: Ainge trades Rondo's best friend, Kendrick Perkins, to Oklahoma City. Rondo goes into a funk for... days? Weeks? Months? God only knows.
March 8, 2011: Rondo's funk only gets worse, as the kid gets dissed by none other than President Barack Obama. "Hey, Ray, why don’t you teach this kid how to shoot?" the prez asked Ray Allen at a public appearance in Boston. Shaquille O'Neal's tell-all book says the commander-in-chief's words really stung him.
May 5, 2011: An argument between Rondo, Rivers and the rest of the Celtic coaching staff during a film session becomes so heated that Rondo threw a bottle across the team's video room and shattered a TV screen. He left practice immediately and was later barred from returning. Days later, he played in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, dislocated his elbow, then played anyway and led the C's to victory.
Nov. 29, 2011: Cue another round of trade rumors: As the lockout ends and New Orleans' Chris Paul hits the trading block, Ainge gets hot and heavy in negotiations to swap star point guards with the Hornets. Again nothing happens, but again Rondo finds out and is forced to answer questions about his future with the team.
Feb. 19, 2012: In the midst of a five-game losing streak, Rondo hurls a ball at an official during a road game against the Detroit Pistons. He is quickly ejected and later suspended for two games.
April 29, 2012: ...and now this.
What's my point? It's that the Celtics' patience for all of this has to be wearing thin, and even though the C's are mostly consummate professionals, you have to have doubts about their ability to trudge through yet another massive off-court distraction and make a deep playoff run. Boston is already down 1-0, and considering both Rondo's likely suspension and Allen's continued injury troubles, a second loss sure seems realistic.
Normally you'd give this Boston team credit for having a comeback in them. If you saw the way they rallied back from down 2-1 against LeBron and the Cavaliers in 2010, you'd be crazy ever to count them out. But times have changed, and the Celtics are struggling through all kinds of emotional distress.
KG had nothing but positive words for Rondo last night, calling him "the head that forms Voltron" in his presser last night, a weird description of the point guard's ability to coordinate the team's offense. But behind the scenes, there's no doubt he's getting fed up with the little man's antics.
Momentum doesn't exist in the NBA playoffs, as Charles Barkley correctly posited in last night's postgame show. It's merely game to game. But the Celtics might be an exception -- the more these off-court distractions keep piling up, the more you have to worry.
Next time he takes the floor, Rajon Rondo needs to do something big to prove he can still lead this team.
Whenever that may be.