The West Coast swing has not been nice to the Celtics.
Forgivable is the loss to the Clippers, but the other two are a bit more concerning. Not only did they average just 89.5 points against two teams in the bottom third of the league defensively, but they gave up an average of 109.5 points over the course of those two games.
That's not the version of Celtics basketball that we've known for the past few seasons, and it's certainly not something that's indicative of a team working toward anything close to an NBA Championship this season.
Rondo, as the constantly blunt person he's always been, has held nothing back in terms of criticism for this team.
On the case of the team's defense, he's having a hard time seeing this team as anywhere near elite like it's been in the past:
It’s been a long time since that’s been the case. For the last couple of years, it’s been, if we score we get stops, and if we don’t it gets ugly.
And in the case of the team's game against the Clippers, he accused the team of getting too caught up in the moment:
We put a lot of emphasis on certain guys and didn’t stick to what we do as a team. They have athletic bigs, and we tried to take the dunks out of the equation, and we got lost and got away from playing Celtic basketball and what we did against the Nets (in the win in Brooklyn on Christmas). We got caught up in individual matchups instead of team-concept defense.
Everything that Rondo is saying is completely true. Boston's defense has been an embarrassment this season, and the fact that they're even playoff-bound right now is nothing short of amazing.
Boston is one of just two of the 16 current playoff teams that is running a point deficit for the season. They give up 2.2 points more than they score themselves per game (Milwaukee is the other, but they give up just 0.2 more than they score).
That's not something that breeds success in either the regular season or the playoffs, if they end up making it that far.
Lucky for the Celtics, they are in the Eastern Conference, where most of the talent is concentrated at the top, with a sharp drop-off after the fifth or sixth playoff spot, so they can struggle like this and have a pretty clear shot at a playoff spot.
But what does a playoff spot accomplish? Will they be satisfied when they snag the eighth spot in the East and end up losing to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs?
I can't see many smiles in Boston after that happens.
A lot of people are going to point to the return of Avery Bradley as the event that's going to push them back to an elite level, but that doesn't really make much sense to me.
Sure, he's a fine player who can defend the perimeter, but is it wise to hang your hat on a guy who has logged just over 1,500 minutes in the NBA and is coming off surgery on both of his shoulders?
This is a problem that's going to need much more attention to be solved, and whether that be making a trade or just Doc Rivers fiddling with the rotations, is still up in the air.
What isn't up in the air is that Boston is below .500, the Celtics are playing terrible defense, and it's going to take a lot more than their annual late-season run to make them look any bit a title contender.
Rondo puts it out there pretty bluntly:
But I told our guys, I’m very honest, ‘You are a .500 team right now, and until we prove we’re not, we are.'
There's no more to it than that, and in comparison to last season, that's a huge disappointment.