Celtics 97, Magic 84
A Celtics team that is reeling from injuries was fortunate enough to match up against an Orlando Magic squad that came into Friday Night’s game having lost 18 of their last 20. Boston (23-23) pulled away with a 14-4 run to begin the fourth quarter and ended up winning by double-digits for the second consecutive game.
Inevitably, this will only fuel the fodder going around that the C’s are somehow better without Rajon Rondo, since they are now 3-0 without their star point guard. During this stretch they’ve demonstrated great ball movement, and compiled 30 assists on 42 field goals in their victory over the Magic. Nine players scored in double-figures, including Jeff Green, Jason Terry, and Leandro Barbosa, who scored a combined 41 of the Celtics 43 bench points in this contest. The bench that was touted as the best in the NBA over the off season is finally producing at a high level, as shown by the +76 margin that Boston enjoyed while their reserves were on the floor.
Does this truly mean that Rondo was stifling the productivity of all these players? That his insistence on being the sole distributor somehow stymied the offensive flow for the entire team? It may appear that way through a very small sample size, but if that is the case, it’s hardly a result of simple cause and effect.
Doc Rivers spoke to his team before the game and said that he “kept emphasizing it’s a great opportunity for some of us, and we don’t back up. We just keep moving forward. That’s the way we’ve got to approach it.” Guys like Green and Barbosa are benefiting from the extra playing time and have found a consistent role within the team, because of this opportunity. While that result may be beneficial for the franchise in the long run, it is not necessarily going to get them to the “promised land” in the final years of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s careers.
Again, two of the three teams that Boston defeated over this three-game, Rondo-less stretch were statistically the worst defensive (Kings) and one of the worst rebounding teams (Magic) in the entire NBA. They still showed significant flaws on offense and a lack of concentration at times on defense. Playing as a cohesive unit is a nice step for this team, but we will have to see indisputable evidence against contending teams before anyone can actually make the argument that losing Rondo sparked some strange chemical reaction in Boston and made this team click.
Stranger things have happened in the NBA. When given the opportunity to carry the load for their team players like Gilbert Arenas, or Tracy McGrady were able to find their groove along with their confidence and catapult themselves into superstardom.
Team chemistry is hardly some scientific formula that can be quantified by the statistics. Pointing out that the Celtics are missing 11.0 assists, 13.7 points, and 5.6 rebounds a game without Rondo in the lineup does not necessarily get to the heart of the matter. Those statistics can be redistributed amongst the players that receive more playing time in his absence. Guys will step up as has been the case with Paul Pierce, whose extra effort on the boards (21 rebounds in the last two games) has increased his season average to 6.1 rebounds per game.
However, Rondo’s absence will definitely be felt at some point. When the Celtics need an explosive player to create against tough defensive teams, they will find themselves unable to succeed without a true floor general. That void may become quite evident when Boston hosts one of the finest defensive teams in the NBA in the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, and it will certainly be felt if and when they reach the postseason. For now, can we all just take a step-back before proclaiming what Rondo does or does not do for this team, and wait for more results.