|Courtney Lee: ‘We’re playing hard for Rajon Rondo’||02.03.13 at 5:36 pm ET|
The Celtics improved to 4-0 since All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo‘s season-ending ACL injury, and that had reporters actually asking his teammates the question: “Are you better off without him?”
“I wouldn’t say that all,” said Courtney Lee, who replaced Rondo in the C’s starting lineup. “Rondo’s an All-Star. Any time you can add an All-Star to your team, your team is going to be better, so we definitely miss Rondo. We don’t look at it as we’re better off without Rondo, I think we came together and we’re playing hard for Rondo.”
That those remarks come from Lee might come as a surprise to those who listened to Grantland writer Zach Lowe‘s assertion that “Lee has been really unhappy in Boston because he feels like the whole offense is Rondo pounding the ball, and he doesn’t get to do anything.” Lee has since denied the report.
After the C’s 106-104 win over the Clippers, everybody in both locker rooms brushed off the notion that the Celtics could be a superior team without Rondo. In some form or another, they’ve all pointed to increased effort, ball movement and defense as well as the element of surprise without Rondo as the reasons for the C’s improvement.
“We’re just moving the ball a lot more, getting everybody involved,” said Lee. “Rondo was our primary playmaker, so he would make plays for everybody else and he would rack up assists, but with the personnel everybody else’s game is more moving, catching and attacking — and playing sets — so that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
While the Celtics didn’t miss Rondo when they built a 19-point halftime lead on Sunday, his absence was apparent when their offensive execution imploded in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. In a span of 6:33, the C’s committed four turnovers and failed to make a field goal, turning a 100-90 advantage into a 101-98 edge.
The Celtics gave the Clippers two opportunities to tie the game before converting a pair of wild isolation jump shots: a 17-foot fadeaway jumper from Jason Terry with 1:09 remaining and a Paul Pierce dagger of a 3-pointer in the waning seconds after Clips coach Vinny del Negro bizarrely chose not to foul the Celtics captain.
“We definitely miss Rondo and what he’s capable of doing out there, especially in the late-game stretch,” said Lee, who finished with seven points, two assists, two rebounds, two steals and one heckuva job defensively. “Moving forward, we’ve got to find what works for us, and we did that.
“JET hit a big shot off the play, and we ran a couple plays to get Paul going. It’s definitely going to be on Paul and definitely on KG [Kevin Garnett] for those go-to minutes and those go-to buckets. And then everybody else is going to get to our spots and be ready to knock down open shots or cut for open layups.”