Marshall said he thought the third quarter of the Celtics’ win over the Lakers on Thursday night was the best he’s seen the C’s play in a long time.
“They looked perfect,” Marshall said. “It was one of those situations, at least in my opinion, where it wasn’t just the bad Lakers, but it was the great Celtics. We’ve seen this team play really well, but the other teams are just so horrendous that me, you and Lou could get out there and play with them ‘¦ Last night I really think it was the product of the Celtics playing great.”
Marshall said he doesn’t think the Celtics are a better team overall without Rondo, but that his absence is allowing them a change of perspective that’s helped them.
“It seems like they needed to be more mentally healthy, and it looks like that’s what they are right now,” Marshall said. “I don’t want to make it sound like Rondo is ‘¦ by no means is he a Dwight Howard  that’s going to screw things up just because it’s all about him, going to purposely screw the mechanism up of Doc [Rivers‘] machine there. But sometimes when we’re young and have success early we can’t stay out of our own way, and I think Rondo kind of ran into that a little bit. He really is a great player, but there’s more than just being a great player when it comes to basketball.”
Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page .
On Rondo’s leadership: “You can’t go in the locker room and alienate your teammates. I don’t know if he’s doing that or not, but it seems like that locker room is much healthier. You can’t go on the court and say, ‘I’ll handle the ball, get out of the way, I’ll make you better.’
“There would be situations where Ray Allen  would be in position to make a move one-on-one, and Rondo would run over to him and grab the ball from him and say, ‘Get to the corner, I’m going to run the play.’ This team doesn’t have that guy right now, and they’re playing so free. Their spacing is amazing, which helps their ball movement. It’s just incredible to see, for a team that doesn’t really have that one guy that stands out to you over this streak, it’s really amazing.”
On whether it’s helping players like Jason Terry  to not have Rondo around: “When the coach tells you, ‘Go play, this is what we need you to do, movement is great, get to your spots, run your stuff,’ and then you have one player who says, ‘I know what the coach said, but I’m on the floor now, I’ll tell you what to do.’ ‘¦ I think Jason Terry, [Leandro] Barbosa and definitely Courtney Lee  are feeling, OK, we don’t have to get the ball off the rebound and hear Rondo yelling, ‘Give me the ball,’ two feet away.”
On Rondo’s reaction to the team winning without him: “It’s a great question. I don’t even know if the guy sitting in the locker room next to him knows the answer to that. I don’t know if Rondo’s sitting there saying, ‘I need to change what I do because this team’s playing great right now but with ball movement and simple passes,’ or if he’s saying, ‘If I’m out there, now the guys are moving, I can get 25 assists a game.’
“He’s got to be eating a little bit of humble pie — people saying you can’t win without Rondo, and now they’re winning without him. And they’re not just eking by, they’re kicking teams’ butts.”
On how much better they really can be without Rondo in the long run: “As we get into the after-All-Star break, the serious part of the season, teams will start to scout the Celtics differently. The first 10 games or so, teams will go in and say, ‘They don’t have Rondo, we’re fine.’ But when you start to lose to the Celtics a little bit, now scouting changes a little bit. We make Jason Terry handle the ball more, we pressure him, we jump him closer to halfcourt. We make Courtney Lee settle for jump shots. We make Barbosa have to guard guys for 8-10 seconds.
“Scouts in the NBA are great at understanding matchups and understand also, when a guy is out, what does a team do well and what do they do poorly, and they’re going to find out what the Celtics cannot do, and it’s going to be a little bit tougher. But right now, it looks great. Teams haven’t said who’s the ballhandler, because you really can’t tell who the ballhandler is.”
On Garnett’s role and allowing Rondo to be called the leader: “When you get to the end of your career, the last thing you want to have to do is what Kobe Bryant ‘s trying to do — trying to make sugar out of you-know-what. KG and Paul [Pierce] don’t deserve to have to do that. They’ve led some poor teams and they’ve led some great teams. So I know exactly what KG’s thinking. Doc says, ‘OK, it’s Rondo’s team and we all buy in, OK, Rondo, you’re the leader.’ But ‘¦ you can’t just say, ‘You’re the leader,’ and expect the guy to be the leader.
“I think Rondo for the most part leads through his play. I don’t think he’s that guy in the locker room that’s going to rally guys and say, ‘Let’s play better.’ There are players out there, and Rondo could be one of them, who’s going to be more like, ‘You need to get your you-know-what together or we’re going to stink.’ ‘¦ It’s fun and exciting to think the best player on your team is your leader, but that’s not always the case. KG, to me, that’s true leadership. ‘¦ When things start to hit the fan, KG steps in. I just love it. You can’t say enough about the way KG is playing.”
On Jared Sullinger’s season-ending back surgery: “I got a chance to talk with four or five scouts about the draft, what they liked, what they thought about the Celtics, and to a man, they said Jared Sullinger‘s back, we just don’t want to risk it. And Danny Ainge even said a few weeks ago, listen, we understood the back was going to be an issue. I never questioned Jared Sullinger’s work ethic, I never questioned his ability to be a great basketball player, but when you talk about making an investment long term, you want him to be healthy.
“And I fell in love with the kid for the way he played. He and Avery Bradley , I think, have been the two guys outside of Kevin Garnett that played hard every single possession, every single night. So I fell in love with the kid. And remember he’s only 20, and when he went down and they said he had to have back surgery, my buddies said see, you told them, but I don’t feel that way. I don’t feel like, ‘I told you so,’ because I fell in love with Jared Sullinger’s work ethic and what he brought to the team. But this is his first back surgery. Hopefully he’s young enough to get through this and be able to have a great career ‘¦ because KG’s going to need him.”