COMMENTARY | At the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, the Boston Celtics were looking at Rajon Rondo to lead Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to one last championship before the two legends inevitably enter retirement. With a window that was already closing very quickly, many around the league strongly believed that this Boston team was done. Without their best player, one who rises so strongly in the biggest of games, how could they possibly beat LeBron James and the Miami Heat, or any other top contender, in the playoffs?
The first reaction? Blow it up. Trade Pierce and Garnett to bring back some assets that can be used to rebuild this roster. Even look at trading Jason Terry, Brandon Bass, and Courtney Lee. And if you can find someone to take on Jeff Green and his scary contract, go for it! These guys could barely play with the best teams in the league with Rondo. Without him, they're toast.
Well, in typical "in your face" Celtics fashion, the team has ripped off an 8-1 record without their star point guard. Wins over the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, and Chicago Bulls defied all sort of basketball logic, and got people thinking. How is it possible that they are somehow playing much better without their star point guard? Can Danny Ainge really pull the trigger and blow this up given how they've responded? Does he owe it to Pierce, Garnett, and Doc Rivers to give them one last shot?
Is it possible that maybe this team just needed a fire lit under them? A torn ACL is a terrible way to light the fire, but it seems to have worked. Some of the role players, namely Terry and Green, are now taking advantage of the opportunity presented to them. The team no longer stands around and waits for Rondo to make a play while the shot clock trickles down; they go and make plays. The spacing problem created when Rondo is on the floor suddenly becomes less of a problem with more minutes given to shooters such as Lee and Terry. Offensive sets have become more regular, and watching the ball is no longer an option.
There is no doubt that Rondo is an elite defender when he feels like it. He certainly does not feel like it every night, or even most nights. Lee has proven to be much more consistent on that end of the floor, as a more fundamentally sound defender who takes less gambles. The ball pressure that Lee and Avery Bradley bring on a nightly basis will terrify opposing backcourts in a 7 game series. Lee is not in the same sentence in terms of being an offensive playmaker, but on any given night, he's actually an improvement over Rondo.
By no means is this a better team without Rajon. On the big stage, he is one of the best players in the league. With that in mind, the complacency that he brought to the team in the smaller stage games was painfully detrimental to the team. He proved to be so good at times that his teammates would stand around and wait for him to make a play. A lot of times, he did just that, and bailed them out. But that isn't a strategy that will consistently win games. Basketball will always be a team sport, and things like urgency and ball movement are important.
The window might already be closed; if not, it is closing quickly. Pierce and Garnett know this better than anyone. They also know that it will take a 100%, pedal to the metal push to give themselves one last run. In a small sample size, that is exactly what this Boston team has given.
Maybe this Rajon Rondo injury is what it took for this roster to finally play with an edge. He certainly makes Boston more dangerous, but sometimes the scariest team is one that is playing for one another. You better believe that this entire roster is now fighting to send Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett off with one last run in the face of adversity.
Mark lives in the Boston area and has been covering the Celtics for 3 years. He has been featured on Fox Sports Yardbarker, Fox Sports, and Sports Illustrated "Hot Clicks", and has been published on Celtics 24/7, Bleacher Report, and Sports-Kings.