Leave it to the Boston Celtics to throw us all for a huge loop once again.
Once it was announced that Rajon Rondo would be out for the remainder of the season, everyone was throwing in the towel on this team. The Big Three era was over! They’d be lucky need to even make playoffs now! The sooner they can blow it up, the better!
Naturally, they’ve responded by winning six games in a row, their most recent being an utter obliteration of the Los Angeles Lakers on TNT Thursday night. It’s hard to know what to make of this; the Celtics were struggling when Rondo was healthy, and last year’s conference finals team already looked like a distant memory. The Rondo injury was supposed to be the final nail in the coffin of both the season, and the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett era.
Instead, the Celtics look rejuvenated, like a team that might not go down so easy in a first-round playoff series.
So, what gives?
Well, a lot of is the motivation factor. The Celtics want to show that they can still be a relevant team and beat any team in a given game. All the talk of blowing things up likely motivated the players to come together and win some games so they don’t wind up being split before the trade deadline.
Additionally, the injury of a major player like Rondo tends to have a rallying effect. The Celtics want to win in honor of their fallen teammate. They’ve undoubtedly been playing harder since the Rondo injury and they’ve probably caught a few teams off-guard. Anyone who thought the Rondo-less Celtics would be an easy out was clearly mistaken.
But how have they managed to avoid getting worse without their All-Star point guard? After all, motivation can only take you so far. At some point, skill is always going to win out.
Well, the notion that the Celtics are better without Rondo is far-fetched and untrue, but his impact on the Celtics has likely been overstated somewhat over time. Rondo is an amazing player to watch and during the course of a game, he’s likely to make two or three plays that no other player could make.
That doesn’t always translate to success, however, and sometimes Rondo’s mistakes can hurt the Celtics. He often passes up easy layups so that he can make difficult passes and he struggles at getting to the free-throw line. His skill set is extremely impressive, but he doesn’t always put it to the proper use.
As such, while the Celtics are undoubtedly missing the great things Rondo is capable of, they’re also living without some of his costly mistakes. That may be helping them more than we realize.
Keep in mind, when Rondo is on the floor, everything runs through him. He’ll typically hold the ball for the vast majority of the possession. What this means is that the movement of the other players isn’t always as fluid as it could be.
The injury to Rondo has led to a scenario where the players are setting up shots for each other, instead of having Rondo in charge of everything whenever he’s on the court. The result is more camaraderie and a more cohesive offense. Admittedly, the lack of a true point guard is going to be a problem at some point, but at the moment, the Celtics look surprisingly well-adjusted after losing the leader of their offense.
The Celtics might be overachieving a little bit on their current streak. The desire to prove they can still win and the rallying effect of the Rondo injury are both carrying this team right now.
Still, even when that dies down, I don’t expect this team to go into much of a slump. Pierce and Garnett are still very good despite their age and the Celtics are one of the toughest defensive teams in the league.
Another conference finals appearance is a bit lofty, but the Celtics are solid enough to make the playoffs and give a good scare to whoever their first-round opponent ends up being.
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