Heavy-hearted Celtics fans across the nation watched the Rondo-less squad take on the Timberwolves in what has now become a battle for draft positioning. I'm not going to go on a long rant about the Rondo trade since this is not the time or the place, but he will undoubtedly be missed by fans and teammates alike. With Rondo out, most fans probably expected our young lottery pick Marcus Smart to become the immediate starter. However, those of us that know how Brad Stevens functions as a coach realize that he is not just going to give the starting job to Marcus Smart. Evan Turner has played well lately, and he deserves the starting gig until Marcus Smart takes it from him (hopefully).
Evan Turner led a Celtics offense that shot 50% from the field in the first half. A large part of that had to do with the fact that Kelly Olynyk scored 14 points on 6-11 shooting, but Evan Turner actually looked like a competent starting point guard other than a bad pass on his first possession of the game. Evan Turner only finished the first half with 1 assist, but with Rondo gone, it seems as though the Celtics will be relying more on a motion offense in which the entire team can pad their assist totals. The Celtics came up with 12 assists on 23 field goals in the first half accompanied by 5 turnovers. Those are numbers that I can deal with in the first half after a blockbuster trade like the one that broke all of our hearts yesterday (at least those of us that were pro-Rondo). At the end of the first half, the Celtics managed to hold a 5 point lead at 53-48.
The third quarter was pretty equally matched, but the eye test suggests that we may not be as bad as people expect us to be without Rondo. In the third quarter, I saw some of the best team passing out of the Celtics that I have seen all season. Steven emphasizes pace and ball movement, and there was a ton of it to go around. The Celtics pushed the ball all game, and without a ball-dominant point guard, there was fluid ball movement. Although Smart only had 3 assists after the first 3 quarters, he actually made several good passes that led to an easy shot or free throws. Kelly Olynyk missed 2 free throws at the end of the third quarter, but the Celtics were still able to extend their lead to 6 points (83-77) with their hot 54% shooting from the field.
The fourth quarter consisted of a series of runs. Minnesota didn't let down and they kept coming at the Celtics cutting into the lead on several different occasions. With 6 minutes left in the game, the Timberwolves cut the Celtics lead to 3. Marcus Smart hit a huge momentum changing 3 followed by an Avery Bradley steal leading to a thunderous Jeff Green dunk. After that, the game trended heavily in the Celtics favor. Thanks to some clutch play by Marcus Smart, the Celtics were able to put the game away. In the end, the Celtics won 114-98 thanks to strong performances across the board. Among the most noticeable contributors were Kelly Olynyk (21 points on 13 shots to go with 8 rebounds and 3 assists), Avery Bradley (14 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists), Jared Sullinger (14 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists) and Marcus Smart who only had 8 points and 4 assists, but Smart scored all 8 of his points in the last 6 minutes of the game when it mattered most. The Celtics shot 56.5% from the field for the entire game (29 assists on 48 field goals to 13 turnovers), and unfortunately for Rondo fans, this may lead to the "better without Rondo" discussion that shouldn't be appropriate the day after he leaves an extraordinary Celtic career behind.