Since becoming the first team to start an NBA season 27-2, the Boston Celtics have lost five of their last seven. After the Lakers snapped the Celtics' 19-game winning streak, the Celtics have lost to the Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Portland Trailblazers (minus Brandon Roy), and Charlotte Bobcats.
What could be the cause for the Celtics' slump?
The answer is simply Rajon Rondo.
Now, do not take this the wrong way: Rondo has had a great season thus far. He is averaging 11.1 points, 7.6 assists, and an impressive 4.9 rebounds. However, the Celtics will not succeed if he does not play solid basketball on a nightly basis.
Before this season, Rondo was overlooked as a key piece of the Boston Celtics. He was overshadowed by the "Big Three," just as you might expect.
This season, Rondo has stormed onto the scene and finally received recognition for his hard work and strong guard play. He is a quick guard who can get to the basket and seemingly sink a layup whenever he chooses.
Most teams focus their energy on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, so this allows Rondo to control the game himself.
However, Rondo also has some glaring flaws. Rondo's jump shot is his biggest question mark. Teams know they can leave him open from 15 feet and out because he is not a threat to sink that shot. Even with the open look, Rondo is not going to attempt that shot because he does not have faith that he will make it.
Rondo also makes some questionable decisions on the floor. He passes up open layups too many times in order to make a highlight reel pass to KG or Kendrick Perkins, and those passes typically turn into a turnover.
In the Celtics' seven losses this season, Rondo is averaging 7.6 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.7 rebounds. He also has averaged 3.5 turnovers in those seven games, with a total of nine in last night's loss to Charlotte.
Despite having the Big Three, the Celtics were never going to win the championship last year without solid guard play. Rondo brought that to the table last year, and he has only improved this year. During the Celtics' 19-game win streak, it was obvious that Rondo had developed into a mature guard who was capable of running an offense.
Or so it seemed.
The Celtics' recent struggles really raise an eyebrow as to his play and as to the rest of the Celtics. Obviously the Celtics were not going to win 70 games this season, but they were also not expected to lose to teams under .500 on a constant basis.
With the rise of the Cavaliers and the Magic, the Celtics have some challengers for the Eastern Conference title. The Lakers have already shown that they have the ability to defeat the Celtics after beating them on Christmas Day.
While I still believe the Celtics can win the championship, they will not even win the East without Rondo playing his best. He does not need to go out and score 20 points or dish out 15 assists on a nightly basis, but he does need to minimize his turnovers.
Rondo will need to play good defense while keeping his fouls down. The Celtics cannot rely on Eddie House or Gabe Pruitt to run the floor, and there is no guarantee that Starbury will be any help, if he does indeed become a Celtic.
The key for Rajon Rondo will be to play his game. He should drive the lane when he sees an opening, pass to KG when he calls for the ball down low, and hustle for the loose ball and rebound like he has all season. If he fails to do any of those, or he tones down his attitude for one second, you can kiss the Celtics' chances in the playoffs goodbye.
The East is not a weak conference anymore. The Celtics will have to fight tooth and nail, just like last season, in order to win the NBA Championship and raise banner 18 to the rafters in TD Banknorth Garden.