Losing streaks are not something the Boston Celtics have been very accustomed to over the past four years. Monday night's 97-88 loss to the team with the NBA's best record, the Oklahoma City Thunder, made it now five losses in a row for the 2008 NBA champions.
Despite playing four of those games at home and with at least one day of rest in between, things just aren't clicking for the team in green. It's tough to say such a streak wasn't inevitable for the league's fourth-oldest team, but the degree of competitiveness has decreased significantly.
Against the younger and more athletic OKC, Boston's Big Three looked old and sluggish. Paul Pierce, who scored 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting, scored only five in the final quarter. Instead, the Celtics' late comeback bid was led by an unlikely hero, Mickael Pietrus.
On the other end, OKC's point guard, Russell Westbrook, sealed the game for the Thunder, hitting two huge threes late, leaving Boston fans wondering where there point guard was.
Rajon Rondo was ranked 17th overall in ESPN's player rankings before the season began, making him the sixth-best point guard, one spot behind Westbrook. Still, the sixth-year player from Kentucky isn't seen in the same status as the other five.
While his numbers are as good as ever, Rondo has been missing in the instances where Boston needs him most. Though he's enjoyed a few high-scoring affairs this season, Rondo has disappeared when true leaders make their mark.
"This is his team right now until everybody else gets it going," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the team's 90-85 loss to the Dallas Mavericks last week. "We need him to score and attack. That's a change, but that's what it is right now until everybody else gets it going, because they're not."
On a night where the Celtics struggled to find offense, there seemed to be confusion on who was going to lead the charge. Was it the 34-year-old Pierce, who has been Boston's golden boy since 1998, or was it the 2006 first-round pick?
It seemed neither knew what to do, and the team is now facing its longest losing streak in five years.
For Rondo to truly become the undisputed leader of this team, he must rise to the occasion in the fourth quarter, a similar argument made for LeBron James. Turnovers have been an issue, as he committed four more Monday night.
And that jump shot we thought improved from his first five seasons in the league? Rondo knocked down only one from farther than 10 feet away.
At 4-8, things aren't looking good for the Celtics, even though there's still quite a way to go in this 66-game season. If there's any hope left in the Eastern Conference's current 10 seed, Rondo is going to have to do what he's been destined to do all along.
If Rondo is really the sixth-best point guard in the league, he's going to have to play more like the fifth.
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