|Bright lights, big game? A Rajon Rondo meme||03.10.12 at 7:26 pm ET|
As everyone knows, Rajon Rondo plays his best in big games, especially when the national spotlight shines brightest. He’s recorded 17 triple doubles in his career including playoffs and 13 of them have come on national television.
He had an outrageous 18-17-20 line against Jeremy Lin and the Knicks and dropped a 32-10-15 on the Bulls three weeks earlier. Both games were on Sunday on ABC. On the flip side, his worst games have come against the Cavs, Raptors and Pistons.
Some days he shares history with Oscar Roberston and Wilt Chamberlain. Other times he plays more like Brevin Knight.
Some wonder why he can’t be more consistent. Others gaze in wonder at his historic performances and praise his clutch play. (Shouldn’t he want to play better in big games?) To put it another way: It wouldn’t be historic if he was able to do it every night.
The truth lies somewhere in between.
Per basketball-reference, Rondo has had five games this season with a Game Score over 20:
Note that two of those games have come against the Knicks whose helter-skelter style of play fits right into Rondo’s abilities and two that two of them have come against the Pistons and Wizards, not exactly red-letter opponents. Conversely, he’s had five games with a Game Score of less that five:
It is notable that four of those games came on the road and two were on the second end of back-to-backs. The Knicks game was his first back from a wrist injury. In between, he’s had seven between 15-20, five between 10-15 and seven between 5-10. That’s roughly the same ratio as Paul Pierce, to cite one example.
Judging Rondo by his statistics is not always the best way to measure his impact. The Celtics are 5-0 when he has 14 assists or more and they’ve won all three games when he’s had five or less. They’re 2-4 when he scores 20 or more points and 8-4 when he scores 10 or less.
“I don’t even look at his numbers,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I look at the way we play.”
If the ball is moving and the Celtics are running, then Rivers feels that Rondo has done his job. Like most players, he’s also dependent on his teammates for help. Some of his worst games have come on the second nights of back-to-backs where the Celtics have notably struggled. It’s hard to run when you can’t get rebounds and the Celtics are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league.
None of that is to excuse him or give him a free pass for some of his poor performances, but it is a measure of how difficult it is to gauge his true value around the league. It’s not a coincidence that the trade talk around him has cooled off noticeably. What, exactly, would fair value for a player like Rondo actually look like? He’s not a superstar on the order of LeBron James, Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant, but he is capable of superstar moments.
He’ll have another chance on the biggest stage when the Celtics play the Lakers Sunday at Staples. More than most teams, the Lakers have given him trouble with the deadly combination of Bryant’s sagging defense and the twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum clogging the lane.
Other teams have tried the same tactic, but they don’t have the same personnel. Not counting the two finals series, the Lakers have won five of the last seven games and if form holds, Rondo will post good but not take-over numbers on Sunday. Of course, if he finds a way to go off, everyone will nod and say that’s what they expected him to do.
|Fast Break: Celtics send Blazers to R.I.P City||03.09.12 at 9:48 pm ET|
After getting blown out by Philadelphia on Wednesday, the Celtics needed some momentum heading into their eight-game road trip. Fortunately, the Trail Blazers were in town and they brought their considerable baggage to the floor with them.
It was uncomfortable watching a team so completely unravel, but the Celtics weren’t complaining after taking a 35-point halftime lead in a 104-86. Portland had 16 turnovers in the first half, forced only two and watched time and again as various Celtics flew down the lane for layups and dunks.
At one point it was 10-10. At another it was 81-38. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen each scored 22 points and the starters shot 28-for-49.
The Celtics will start an eight-game road trip in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Sunday.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Not settling: It wasn’t clear immediately that the Blazers were in full ship be sinking mode, but the Celtics didn’t waste any time finding out. Rajon Rondo and Pierce attacked the rim right from the start and once they realized Portland wasn’t going to put up a fight, it was open season on the basket.
Sasha Pavlovic has the cure for the second quarter blues: The veteran swingman hit a 3 on the team’s first possession and then got fouled on a breakaway layup. Pavlovic scored eight points in the quarter and the Celtics scored 18 of the first 20 points. It was 45-19 after six minutes and 38-13 for the quarter.
Save those legs: Kevin Garnett made all five of his shots and played just 20 minutes. Allen, Pierce and Rondo clocked in with just 26 apiece. They needed that.
Bench production: Avery Bradley scored 10 points and had five assists. Greg Stiemsma missed all nine shots he took, but he had seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Pavlovic added 10 points and it was the bench’s best performance in weeks, even without Mickael Pietrus (knee) and Chris Wilcox (personal reasons).
WHAT WENT WRONG
Injuries, again: Pietrus has struggled with his shot lately, but coach Doc Rivers revealed before the game that his problems are related to a knee injury. Pietrus tried to play through it on Wednesday against Philly and Rivers acknowledged before Friday’s game that he would have liked to have had that back. The hope is that Pietrus will be available for Sunday’s game against the Lakers, but that’s far from given.
|Trade Rumor: Celtics asked for Tyler Hansbrough, pick for Ray Allen||03.09.12 at 3:19 pm ET|
At the end of Jackie MacMullan’s excellent piece on the end of The Big Three, she quotes Pacers president Larry Bird regarding Danny Ainge’s asking price for Ray Allen.
“Here’s the thing,” Bird said. “When Danny and I talked about trading for Ray, he wanted Tyler Hansbrough and a first-round pick. If that’s the value he’s putting on Ray Allen, he ain’t getting it. That tells me he’s in no hurry to trade him.”
That jives with other talk around the league that Ainge’s price is high for one of his four All-Stars. On The Big Show on Thursday, Ainge said that he wouldn’t deal future assets to fix his bench’s problems now. He’s not desperate to make a trade, in other words.
|Trade Rumor: Celtics interested in Michael Beasley||03.08.12 at 3:06 pm ET|
Minnesota forward Michael Beasley turned 23 less than two months ago, and in four seasons in the NBA he’s averaged 15.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He’s also making 42 percent of his 3-pointers this season. Beasley has also been durable more than you’d expect. He missed only 14 games in his first three seasons in the league, and while he missed 11 games with a foot injury, he’s been back in the Wolves lineup since late January.
But Beasley doesn’t really fit with Minnesota, who have Kevin Love entrenched at the power forward spot and rookie Derrick Williams ready for more playing time. He will be a restricted free agent this summer with a qualifying offer of $8.1 million, per Sham Sports contract database. He can be had, but the question is for how much?
Ken Berger of CBS Sports notes the Celtics, Lakers and Orlando are interested in Beasley. A trade for free agent center Jermaine O’Neal straight-up works cap-wise, but the Wolves would certainly want more than an aging center contemplating wrist surgery. The Celtics will have two first round picks in this year’s draft — their own and one obtained from the Clippers, via the Kendrick Perkins trade. (The pick is top-10 protected through 2016, but the Clips are headed for the playoffs and have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference).
Celtics president Danny Ainge has never been afraid to take chances on talent that hasn’t fit in other places. Beasley was the No. 2 pick in the draft, but was dumped on the Wolves for cash and second round draft picks when the Heat cleared cap space to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Would he be worth a mid to late-round pick in what has been described as a deep draft?
In the same report, Berger also notes that the Celtics are “prepared to entertain offers for Paul Pierce,” and that while the Clippers may be interested in Ray Allen, they don’t have the assets for a deal. Finally, Berger writes that Ainge would have to be “blown away” for a deal involving Rajon Rondo.
|Get ready for the longest week of the season||03.08.12 at 2:10 am ET|
The momentum the Celtics had been riding hit an unfortunate speed bump in Philadelphia on Wednesday, when they were blown out by the 76ers, 103-71. It was the worst defeat of the Big Three era and a game they had no chance of winning, an realization that became obvious about six minutes into the contest.
It cost the Celtics a chance to move ahead of Philly in the Atlantic Division in the loss column. Winning the division has never been high on their list of priorities, but this season it’s the difference between home court in the first round and a possible matchup with the Bulls or Heat.
As disappointing as their performance was — and it was awful — the loss changes nothing as the trade deadline looms in one week. There will be more games with Philly, including a rematch at the end of their dreaded 8-games-in-12-days road trip that begins on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. By the time they return, we will finally have an inclination into what team president Danny Ainge has planned for next season and beyond.
Here are four possible scenarios:
1. Status quo
As outlined here, the Celtics don’t actually have to do anything to facilitate a major offseason overhaul. They will be far under the cap if they simply let their veterans contracts’ expire, rather than deal them away. This would be only the first step in a multi-year rebuilding project, but with cap space, two first round draft picks and Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce they would be in a far better position than when Ainge took over operations in 2003.
It took Ainge four years to assemble enough assets to make a play for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but that required tearing down a veteran team first and he has already laid the groundwork over the last few years.
2. The Rondo move
Both publicly and privately, the Celtics have been consistent about what it would take to get them to trade Rondo: Equal value. Short of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and a handful of other superstar players, they’re not inclined to go that route.
Assessing Rondo’s value is also a part of the equation and this is where it gets complicated. He’s undeniably talented, but teams around the league are fearful that A) he wouldn’t be as good without the shooting ability currently around him and B) his personality would be a difficult match for a rebuilding team.
There’s a lot of unknowns surrounding Rondo, not just for a team that may want to acquire him, but for the Celtics. Can you build a team from scratch when he is your best player? We may find that out soon.
3. The detonation
Trading any of the Big Three would be difficult and for different reasons. Pierce has been the franchise for a long time and that does count for something, even for someone as unsentimental as Ainge. He’s also still productive and the Celtics would want a huge return to even consider moving him.
Garnett’s $21 million contract is extremely difficult to trade and his play at center has opened up the possibility that he could have a longer future with the Celtics than once thought. If he decided to test free agency, he’d be in high demand.
Allen would seem to be the easiest to move. He’s in the last year of a $10 million contract and his shooting skill has held up well, even if the rest of his game has begun to diminish. Still, Ainge isn’t going to give Allen away and the price in players or picks may be too high.
4. Something on the margins
The Celtics desperately need someone tall to help their thin frontline. Jermaine O’Neal‘s absence while he contemplates wrist surgery has opened up a starting position for Brandon Bass, but they are getting annihilated on the boards. They may wait to see if anyone is bought out of their contracts after the deadline — think Chris Kaman — because they don’t have much to offer in trade.
This deadline season has been heavy on speculation, but short on actual names for two reasons. First, everyone is waiting to see what happens with Howard in Orlando. Until that situation is resolved, teams are reluctant to pursue other options.
Second, the abbreviated season has left many teams reluctant to make a big move. There simply isn’t enough practice time to integrate a new lineup and with no clear-cut favorite in the West, there’s less pressure to make a bold move. That won’t stop the rumor mill from churning, but as March 15 approaches there is little resolution.
|Fast Break: Celtics momentum meets the road||03.07.12 at 9:18 pm ET|
Six times the Celtics have played the second game of a back-to-back on the road and six times they have lost spectacularly.
Dec. 28: At New Orleans: 97-78
Jan. 14: At Indiana 97-83
Feb. 10: At Toronto 86-74
Feb. 16: At Chicago 89-80
Feb. 20: At Dallas 89-73
You can add Wednesday night in Philadelphia as the Celtics were embarrassed, 103-71 in a so-called showdown against the division-leading 76ers. It was over almost as soon as it started. Then it got worse. The 71 points tied a season-low and the 32-point spread was the worst loss in The Big Three era.
WHAT WENT WRONG
About those back-to-backs: If you wanted to know why the Celtics struggle so match in back-to-backs, all you had to do was watch the first quarter when they constantly settled for jump shots and were killed on the offensive glass. They were outscored 20-4 in the paint at the start and that was just a prelude to ….
The second quarter blues: It’s not that hard to figure out. The Celtics’ offense goes from mediocre to awful whenever Rajon Rondo is out of the game. Their bench is one of the worst scoring outfits in the league. They needed something from Chris Wilcox and Mickael Pietrus. They got nothing.
Rondo, oh no: On the one hand, there wasn’t much that Rondo could do when the Celtics weren’t getting stops or rebounds and everyone else was moving in slow motion. On the other, this was a game when you’d like to see Rondo try to take it on his shoulders and jumpstart his team. Instead he took six shots in 28 minutes and was a minus-28.
Someone woke up Evan Turner: A story making the rounds in Philly on Wednesday is that the second-year Sixers guard had some kind of unidentified “issue,” that is holding him back. Whatever issues Turner may or may not have — and he and coach Doug Collins denied a problem before the game — he worked them out against the Celtics to the tune of 26 points in 36 minutes. He’s the kind of young, athletic player the Celtics would love to start adding to the roster.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Doc pulled a Popovich: For years, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has treated back to backs as if they don’t exist. He’s been known to pull his starters en masse and rest them while his team takes their lumps. Doc Rivers has often resisted the ploy, preferring to have his team work through their issues on the court and try to build momentum. He called them off early on Wednesday, saving their legs for Friday night’s game in Portland.
|Fast Break: Lockout ugly, but Celtics beat Rockets||03.06.12 at 10:17 pm ET|
This was lockout ugly hoops at its worst. Slow offense, shoddy rebounding, careless turnovers, they were all on display in abundance as the Celtics and Rockets met in a game someone had to win because obviously they both couldn’t lose. The Celtics prevailed, 97-92 because their old men — Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — turned back the clock in the overtime.
It was Allen’s 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a late lead in regulation and Pierce — 30 points, six rebounds — who willed them to the win in the extra session. The old guys still have something left. How much they have for Philadelphia on Wednesday night remains to be seen, but somehow it’s a game for first place in the Atlantic Division.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The second quarter, for once: Down by seven points after an uninspired first 12 minutes, the Celtics stormed back on the strength of their defense. The Rockets shot 63 percent in the first quarter, but they made only five of 21 shots in the second. The effort started with the much-maligned second unit who managed to score only six points in their four-minute run. However, they also held the Rockets to just two points and Houston started the quarter 1-for-11 from the floor.
Greg Stiemsma had his best game since his last good game: It’s been a long time since the Stiemer had done something of note. You’d have to go all the way back to Jan. 2 when he scored 13 points as a starter to match his production in the first half against the Rockets when he scored eight points on 4-for-6 shooting. Stiemsma was pressed into service after Brandon Bass went back to the locker room to have his ankle re-taped. As with Sunday’s game, Bass’ tape job took over 20 minutes to complete.
Just your average Rajon Rondo: There was very little buzz in the arena and the national television cameras were nowhere in sight. The opponent was Kyle Lowry, an excellent NBA point guard, but not a phenom on par with Jeremy Lin. Rondo was alternately the best player on the court, and the owner of the game’s biggest mistake when he fumbled a ball and missed a breakaway layup that would have iced it. He finished with nine points and 12 assists and outplayed Lowry for three and a half quarters.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Slow starts to halves: The Celtics started the game in a haze, almost as if there was a carryover from Sunday’s emotional overtime win over New York. Rondo was the only active Celtic for most of the quarter and Luis Scola and Chandler Parsons shot 7-for-8 as Houston built a 28-21 lead.
That was only a prelude to a lockout-ugly third quarter in which the Celtics were outscored 28-17 and saw a 10-point lead turn into a five-point deficit. They went without a field goal for the last five minutes, 21 seconds of the quarter.
Not a banner night for KG: Fresh off his string of double-doubles, Kevin Garnett had a rough night against Rockets’ center Sam Dalembert. Not only was he held to just 13 points and seven shots, he also picked up a fourth quarter technical foul and missed two free throws in overtime. Garnett had 13 rebounds, but the Celtics got annihilated on the boards, 57-38.
Bench production lacking: Chris Wilcox was 1-for-4 in an ineffective 20 minutes. Mickael Pietrus missed both his shots and so did Keyon Dooling. The veteran trio scored four points in 44 minutes.