Have the Celtics Figured Out Life Without Rajon Rondo?

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2013

All Rondo can do at this point is coach from the bench.
All Rondo can do at this point is coach from the bench.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

When the Boston Celtics went on a seven-game winning streak after Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in late January, many wondered if the Celtics were actually better off without their All-Star point guard.

After all, they were 20-23 and had lost six straight at the time it was announced that Rondo was done, and they would go on to win 16 of their next 22 games after his injury.

Boston would then limp to a 5-11 finish, largely due to injuries that struck Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Courtney Lee. According to some, the C's still didn't miss Rondo, though. It was just numerous other guys missing time which caused the slide.

Fair enough.

Fast-forward to April 29, and the Celtics find themselves down 3-1 to the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

So, everyone, do they miss Rondo yet?

The answer is a resounding yes, and the answer to the headline question is an equally resounding no.

The second you saw Avery Bradley throwing countless entry passes right to Knicks players in Game 1, it should have immediately triggered the thought, "Wow. The Celtics could sure use Rajon Rondo right about now."

While many were driving the Boston-is-better-without-Rondo bandwagon, there were plenty who were on the other side. The side that said once the postseason rolled around, you'd notice how much the C's need their floor general.

The fact is that without No. 9 handling point-guard duties, the Celtics offense cannot function properly during a seven-game series.

This is not the regular season. This is the playoffs, a time when you are facing the stiffest competition and when defenses are tougher. This is when you need your best players on the floor, and without Rondo, Boston simply does not have that.

The above quote by J.R. Smith represents a fairly accurate depiction of the C's sans Rondo. Their offense has no fluidity or continuity, and instead of having a smooth flow, they have a rather viscous one. During many possessions, Doc Rivers' ballclub cannot generate any sort of ball movement and resorts to forcing the rock into Pierce or Garnett for contested shots late in the clock.

What's funny about all of this is that the Celtics offense had struggled the past couple of seasons with Rondo running the show (their 2011-12 offensive efficiency is pictured below). So, imagine how defunct it is without him.

Another problem with Boston is that it doesn't really have many shooters with which to space the floor. This allows New York to swarm either Pierce or Garnett whenever they touch the ball.

Rondo would compensate for that by bringing that much-needed unpredictability to the C's' offense. You wouldn't know if he's going to look to score or utilize his floor vision to make a play.

The Knicks don't have to be concerned about the playmaking abilities of Bradley because, well, he doesn't have any. He is essentially a shooting guard who is being forced to play the point guard position. That's why Leandro Barbosa would certainly help right now, and it's a shame he succumbed to the same injury that Rondo did.

You don't even need to delve into statistics to see how poor the Celtics offense is with Rondo not on the floor, although the fact that it failed to score 80 points in any of the first three games of this series is a pretty good indicator.

Just watch how long it takes Boston to get into its offensive sets. While the Celtics were definitely better in Game 4, they fell apart during the second half much like they had for the rest of the series. No surprise there, as defenses get even tighter in crunch time.

The C's have always been known as a team that, even though they weren't exactly a high-octane group, could close out games better than anyone. You'd put Garnett, Pierce and Rondo on the floor together late, and they'd find a way to deliver a win.

Now, they are just a ballclub that has trouble putting the ball in the basket, period.

Did they come through on Sunday afternoon? Yes, but logic would tell you that with a healthy Rondo, they probably would have come through at other times during this series as well, especially Game 1.

Instead, the Celtics blew halftime leads in the first two contests and simply looked out of sorts throughout Game 3.

You can sit there and knock Boston's performance during this postseason all you want, but rational thought will lead you to conclude that you cannot get mad at the players for this. They are doing all they can; they just don't have enough without their floor general.

Taking Rondo off the C's is akin to removing Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. That's not to say that Rondo is as good as Paul, because he isn't. It's just the value that he brings to his team.

Do the Clippers have some nice pieces without Paul? Sure. Would they win some games if he weren't there? Absolutely, but they would be far from elite. The same goes for the Celtics.

Maybe there shouldn't even be a question as to whether or not the Boston Celtics can figure out life without Rondo, because, in reality, they can't.


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