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Irish Coffee: Dichotomy of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce

02.17.12 at 1:52 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo couldn’t be hotter, averaging 28.0 points, 9.7 assists and 7.3 boards in the past three games.

Paul Pierce couldn’t be colder, averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds in his past four games.

And the Celtics are 1-4 in their past five games. So goes the 2011-12 NBA season for the aging champions.

Whether it’s the result of Rondo’s wrist injury coming on the heels of Pierce’s heel injury to start the season, compounded by whatever Pierce is going through the past handful of games (Charles Barkley credited age during Thursday night’s TNT broadcast), the C’s two best players haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 15-14 record, which only stands to get worse if the trend continues in Dallas and Oklahoma City.

Just how poorly have Rondo and Pierce meshed on the court? Besides the fact that the two have yet to both exceed 15 points in the same game this season, take a look at their overall numbers with and without each other.

Rondo sans Pierce (3 games): 22.0 PPG, 16.0 FGA (54.8%), 9.0 FTA, 10.3 APG, 5.0 RPG
Rondo with Pierce (18 games): 14.1 PPG, 11.9 FGA (48.1%), 4.3 FTA, 9.4 APG, 5.0 RPG

Pierce sans Rondo (8 games): 21.5 PPG, 13.9 FGA (52.3%), 6.6 FTA, 7.5 APG, 6.0 RPG
Pierce with Rondo (18 games): 15.4 PPG, 13.7 FGA (36.2%), 4.7 FTA, 4.5 APG, 4.7 RPG

Obviously, Pierce becomes the primary ball-handler in Rondo’s absence, so naturally his assist numbers rise, but why does his field goal percentage climb almost 20 percentage points without Rondo in the lineup? Doesn’t a should-be All-Star point guard create easier shots for Pierce? Likewise, shouldn’t a Hall of Fame swingman open the floor up for Rondo to get to the basket? But neither is happening when the two share the floor together.

There’s a clear correlation between one having a great game and the other having an off night.

Rondo when Pierce >15 points (8 games): 8.5 PPG, 9.0 FGA (44.4%), 2.3 FTA, 10.6 APG, 3.9 RPG
Rondo when Pierce <15 points (13 games): 19.4 PPG, 14.2 FGA (51.1%), 6.5 FTA, 8.9 APG, 5.7 RPG

Pierce when Rondo >15 points (6 games): 9.5 PPG, 10.0 FGA (33.3%), 3.2 FTA, 3.8 APG, 3.2 RPG
Pierce when Rondo <15 points (20 games): 19.7 PPG, 14.9 FGA (42.8%), 6.0 FTA, 5.9 APG, 5.7 RPG

It appears as though if one is in attack/create mode, the other falls into sit-back-and-watch mode. In the eight games Rondo missed, Pierce attempted 30 percent more shots at the rim. In the six games Rondo has exceeded 15 points, the Celtics point guard has attempted 93 percent more shots at the rim.

It’s important to note the Celtics are 0-3 without Pierce and 6-2 in Rondo’s absence. Is that to say the Celtics are better without Rondo? Absolutely not. They just haven’t figured out how to maximize the impact of one player entering his prime and another entering the so-called twilight of his career. When one’s been hot, the other’s not.

Is it possible for both to be in attack/create mode at the same time? Take back-to-back victories against the Bobcats (easy) and Grizzlies (not so easy) for example. Those two occasions mark the only times Rondo has reached double-digit assists and Pierce has recorded at least six dimes in the same game, and they happened to come when the Celtics were playing their best basketball.

In those two wins, Pierce and Rondo totaled 19 shots within 10 feet of the basket (making 11 of them) and 20 of their 43 combined assists directly led to buckets from inside of 10 feet — only three of which were completed to each other. The Celtics shot 77-of-154 (exactly 50%) in those two games, and 69 percent of the 47 field goals were created by either Rondo or Pierce’s playmaking — including 36 percent within 10 feet of the hoop.

Can the two coexist at their best? Absolutely. Whether they can consistently this season remains to be seen.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
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