Sunday, April 28, 2013

Facing Elimination, Will Celtics Overcome Recent Challenges?

Okay, let’s start right off by addressing the 500 pound green elephant in the room so that we can move on: The Celtics Miss Rajon Rondo.

Did anyone in their right minds think any differently when news that he was gone for the season spread that fateful day against the Heat?

As annoyed as I was at the end of Game 2 when Tommy Heinsohn kept waxing on about how it was a “Rondo-type game,” and “If Rondo were in this game, he’d…” even as our guys in green were getting their shamrocks handed to them, he was indisputably correct. It just didn’t feel like the appropriate time to throw it out there, because our guys were struggling and to mention Rondo felt like an excuse for poor play. And it was poor play, Rondo or not.
Look, as I said back then after it happened and the Celtics went on a great run with ‘Hippie Basketball” sharing the wealth and running free and loosey-goosey which led to the inevitable but horribly ill-informed and naive proclamation by the casual fairweather that “the Celtics are better without Rondo!”

Without going into full-rehash mode, the Celtics team, that came together and rallied without their most vital piece was a running, passing pure-basketball team that traded in set plays for this basic basketball truth – if you play defense and get out and run, good things will happen.
The team you’ve seen over the last two of the three games has been the team that I feared would enter the playoffs – a walk-it-up, play-calling half-court-offense team with changing faces based on the current needs and matchup problems presented by their opponent.  We all know that in the playoffs, things slow down and the game moves deeper into half court sets. The more successful teams are the ones that can rebound and run on misses attacking the opponent’s basket before they get set. Either that, or they possess a talented point guard who can steer them through the intricacies of breaking down the half-court defense. Obviously, everyone knows which team the Celtics had to be.
I lay a fair portion of the blame on the players for not taking better care of the basketball in the first game, but I must include Coach Doc Rivers and even single him out for some of the failure of the second and third games.

Doc has a penchant for changing things up in the playoffs at the most inexplicable moments. The Celtics would and should have won Game 1, but for some horrendous unforced turnovers by Green,
Pierce and a couple of others in the 4th quarter. Why try to fix what ain’t really broke? But he put the ball more completely in Avery Bradley’s hands (a huge mistake, since he is essentially a shooting guard in a point guard’s body) instead of keeping Paul Pierce as the the point forward role that he had assumed from the moment that Rondo went down. He started a different lineup in game 3 in the hopes that it would rejuvenate the offense and provide more scoring punch at the outset, but it did neither. In fact, it quite possibly disrupted any continuity we might have had from Game 1 to Game 2 and it may have undermined the confidence. He has relegated Courney Lee to the bench at a time when the defense could clearly use a strong defender with length at the shooting guard/small forward position for the J.R. Smith’s and Ray Felton’s of the world, not to mention an aggressive offense off the run, which he has shown is his strength. We’ve seen only sneak-peaks of Terrence Williams who is probably the 3rd best ballhandler on the team at this point, and there has been scant floor time for our only solid big, Shavlik Randolph.

There are a host of other questionable turns that I can go into more fully maybe at the postmortem of the season, but, to quote a friend and fellow GreenHead, “You don’t make changes to your lineup in the postseason, only adjustments.”
We know that today’s game could very well be the last one of the season for the Celtics. If it is, it will obviously be disappointing, but they should be proud of what they WERE able to accomplish this season: They began the season with an almost completely new roster and set out with the goal of pursuing that elusive 18th title in spite of the fact that two of their three main stars were on the downslope of hero’s mountain. They dealt with adversity when their best player, the pilot of their ship – the head of their Voltron – was lost for the season. They soldiered on even when another of their team, a rookie who hadn’t been counted upon initially but then seized his opportunity to contribute, was taken away with back surgery. And they continued marching ahead when yet another of their team, a proven scorer, was stricken down with the same injury that took their leader. They had two others returning from what was, evidently, life-threatening heart surgery attempting to become comfortable just running and taking contact, let alone resuming their high-level of play. There were trade rumors swirling amidst the team’s two best remaining players which could have damaged the morale and drive of this team. Instead, they pushed ahead further and entered the Playoffs as the 7th seed, underdogs against the Atlantic Division winners.

No, the Celtics have nothing to be ashamed about, no reason to hang their heads. If this is, indeed, the end of the season – and perhaps even the end of the era of Pierce and Garnett – then at least the Celtics can rest assured that their future will be competitive. Coming next season, we’ll have the services of Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullenger back. Jeff Green, who finally began the journey of coming into his own, will also return. The young and talented Terrence Williams and  Jordan Crawford will be back, as will Shavlik Randolph and the potential of Fab Melo. The chorus of questions will become louder as the season ends and attention turns to whether Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry return, either of their own volition or by the hand of General Manager Danny Ainge, who may opt to begin the rebuilding process in earnest now that it has become clear that the Celtics are no longer the title contenders that they were from 2009 through last season.

There will be much to say at the close of this season, whenever it comes, but I’ll save it. I’ll save it because as long as there is a game left to play, there is hope that these Celtics come together, stand as one, and keep fighting on.

As one sage and still fierce warrior once reminded us…


Go Celtics.

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