Kevin Garnett, Not Rajon Rondo Is Still Biggest Key to Boston Celtics Success

Mike WalshCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2012

June 1, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) talks with forward/center Kevin Garnett (5) during the third quarter against the Miami Heat in game three of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics are 19-12 since 2010-11, when one of their star players is absent. They are 9-8 when a different star is out over the same time period.

It comes as a slight surprise to realize that the Celtics have won 61 percent of the games Rajon Rondo has missed since 2010-11. What is not surprising is that they are exceedingly average with Kevin Garnett on the sidelines.

What these numbers could illustrate is that the rest of the Celtics, outside of Rondo, have a much higher propensity to step up in his absence. Despite Rondo's amazing ability do almost everything on the basketball court, he remains one-dimensional often. Stat lines like six points, 14 assists and three rebounds are just as common as his triple-doubles. 

When Rondo is out, we've seen what Paul Pierce can still do in small one-to-two game bursts. The same goes for Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Jason Terry. With Rondo out, there is sometimes just one or two needs to be filled and these players are fully capable of doing that for a couple games here and there. That is what leads to a 19-12 record. 

Garnett's absence, on the other hand, is a gaping whole. Garnett has the ability to score far more consistently than Rondo and do much more on the court with his size and defensive skills. 

The Celtics' center has scored fewer than 10 points just once this season, in the opener at Miami, while Rondo has failed to reach double-figures seven times. Even though Rondo gets a lot of credit for all-around play, who is really more valuable to the Celtics in multiple facets of the game?

Even throwing out those won-loss records, we can look at the sheer totals. In less than two-and-a-half years, Rondo has missed 31 games to Garnett's 17. Need I remind you which player here is 26 and which is 36? 

Somehow it appears that Garnett has become more durable and less suspension-prone than Rondo these past few seasons. Granted, the minute discrepancy is valid, as Rondo is averaging 8.5 more minutes per game in 2012-13.

As they say, the best ability for an NBA star is availability.

Without Garnett off the floor, Boston is devastated down low. They are thrashed on the boards and in the paint by teams with legitimate size. Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger offer little to no help on the defensive end right now and Garnett has regularly been the only thing standing before a total massacre night after night.

According to, Garnett's average plus/minus over a full 48 minutes is plus-6.8 and the Celtics have outscored opponents by 90 points with him on the floor. 

Rondo, playing those extra minutes without Garnett protecting the rim, actually holds a minus-0.6 mark on average, per 48 minutes. The Celtics with Rondo on the floor have been outscored by nine total points this season.

When Rondo is on the court with the likes of Sullinger, Bass or Jeff Green trying to play the Five, there is no one to cover for him. His gambling defensive style is valuable and effective, but only when there is someone protecting the rim. 

Garnett’s defense is a system-changer. He is Rondo defensively, making each of his teammates better because of his communication and intelligence. Though it has not been as noticeable in 2012-13, Garnett’s value is pervasive through everything the Celtics do defensively. His rim protection allows Rondo and the other guards to play aggressively on the perimeter.

It is important to examine a team's depth in a discussion like this. Right now, the Boston Celtics are much more equipped to deal with a missing Rajon Rondo. This team has a plethora of guards and small forwards who are capable enough to take minutes filling Rondo's shoes. They also have the specter of Avery Bradley returning to further bolster that part of the roster.

On the contrary, Boston is thin in the frontcourt. The depth they have in the paint is severely limited and undersized. Doc Rivers has been forced to go to Jason Collins in recent games, just to give Kevin Garnett a reprieve of being the only Celtic on the floor with real size. Collins' insertion at least defers some of the banging contact from Garnett.

It is plain to see how valuable Kevin Garnett is to this team. The odd this is, we almost rate his value higher for a lack of success. Opposing bigs regularly have field days against the Celtics.

Larry Sanders has torched Boston twice in December for 17 points and 20 rebounds and 18 points and 16 rebounds. Joakim Noah posted a triple-double against the Celtics on Dec. 18. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter have feasted on them twice, and the list goes on. Boston's usually high-ranking defense is still surrendering 97.8 points per game.

Garnett is the Celtics' lone hope to fend off some of these bigs in short spurts, like a seven-game series. In the end, that is all the Celtics will be judged on. 

In a series against the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks or Chicago Bulls, what will matter more? Rondo can and should win those point guard matchups, but what then?

The real test and key to the Boston Celtics' success in 2012-13 will be Kevin Garnett's value battling the starting frontcourts of those top Eastern Conference teams.