The loss of Rajon Rondo certainly hurts the Boston Celtics chances of winning the Eastern Conference, let alone the NBA title. Rondo is the type of player that is hard for any opponent to stop, but the New York Knicks and Miami Heat don’t have anyone who can defend him one-on-one.
Since the Celtics are perilously close to the $74.3 million luxury tax threshold, it will be tough for the Celtics to sign or trade for a significant name. The Celtics are either reserved to bringing in a veteran like Delonte West at the league minimum or getting a point guard from the Development League.
This isn’t necessarily the end for the Celtics 2012-’13 season. Everyone will have to share the load.
The Celtics don’t have a certified reserve point guard who could create shots for his teammates. Paul Pierce will have to assume the role of point-forward that he had last year when Rondo missed games early in the season due to a sprained ankle as well as his suspensions. This year the Celtics have mostly used Pierce to come off screens and take outside shots. Now, Pierce will have to become the facilitator. He will need to improve his shooting because the onus falls on him even more with Rondo’s absence. The Celtics cannot afford Pierce to go 6-for-36 from beyond the arc in the next eight games. Kevin Garnett’s interior passing was huge in the Celtics 100-98 double overtime victory over the Heat. Garnett will be set up more in the post and the Celtics will look to have players cut to the basket. The problem is these two players are in the latter stages of their careers and they cannot play 35-plus minutes per game.
The role players will need to step it up and put forth consistent efforts whenever they step on the court. Jeff Green’s defense on Heat forward LeBron James was a critical factor on Sunday. Late in the game, James was scoring off of switches and picks. Green also prevented James from getting the ball in the final possession of double overtime. This is what Danny Ainge had in mind when he sent Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Green. Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Leandro Barbosa have not performed up to expectations this year. Terry and Barbosa are more shoot-first guards and they are not that strong defensively. If those two struggle scoring points, the Celtics will be in trouble. Earlier in the season, Terry and Lee worked well together, especially when the Celtics beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the first of Rondo’s two-game suspension. Terry and Lee have really struggled with their outside shots this year. These players will really need to find their touch. Barbosa’s quickness can be an asset, but he can be over aggressive at times. The best example was Barbosa’s offensive foul when Heat forward Shane Battier stepped in to stop a transition basket in the fourth quarter.
In the frontcourt, Brandon Bass has basically been nonexistent over the past few weeks. Chad Finn of The Boston Globe wrote last week that he lets his offense affect his defense like Glen Davis did with the Celtics. Finn’s statement is correct. Bass needs to be the player he was last year when he was contributing on both ends of the court. He needs to free himself for baskets in the paint. There have been times when Bass has blown by his defender or gotten open in the paint, but his midrange jumper has failed him. He brought great energy off the bench against the Heat, but he faded after his first five minutes of play. Jared Sullinger must continue to play strong in the paint. Opposing teams are noticing Sullinger’s penchant for fouling and they are going to set up plays for their big men to post up Sullinger like the Atlanta Hawks did with Al Horford in Friday night’s 123-111 double overtime loss. Rashard Lewis frustrated Sullinger by holding his hands around his neck and getting Sullinger to retaliate with a shove. Sullinger has to adjust to the way the officials are blowing their whistles and the tactics veteran opponents will use to take Sullinger out of the game.