BOSTON (CBS) – On January 30th, I wrote a piece that said losing Rajon Rondo could turn out to be a good thing for the Boston Celtics.
My intuition was right. Since losing Rondo (ACL), and then Jared Sullinger three days later (back), the Celtics banded together as a team to win seven straight– including games against the Heat, the Clippers, the Nuggets, and the Lakers. They were bound to run out of gas at some point, and unfortunately it happened Monday night in Charlotte. The thing is, it wasn’t a bad loss. The Celtics played long, they played hard, they played smart, and they didn’t quit. They just came up short.
Was it a missed opportunity? Absolutely. The Bobcats are the worst team in the league, so it stung a little. But you can’t dwell on the past — you have to look toward the future. And that’s the Bulls, Wednesday night.
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So how do you explain the turnaround? Here’s how I see it: when Rondo was on the floor, Boston’s offense was predictable. Now that he’s on the sidelines, they’re forced to move the ball more and not rely on one person to run the plays. This team’s versatility has become their greatest strength. They’re working as a team, and until Monday night, they were winning. The “new” Celtics need to continue to use their versatility and unpredictability to their advantage, especially tonight against the Bulls.
A few weeks ago Jason Terry was lackluster and deferring his shots. Now, he’s found his spark, his spot and his groove. Sure, he missed several consecutive 3-pointers in the first two overtimes on Sunday, but when he needed to sink a shot he did. His go ahead three won the game for Boston, snapping Denver’s nine-game win streak in the process. “My instinct, my gut tells me to keep shooting,” said Terry. Well, listen to your gut JET and keep shooting; the end result was a season-high 26 points.
The biggest surprise since Rondo’s injury has been the play of Jeff Green. He’s an entirely different player without Rondo on the floor, and has averaged 15 points per game over the last five contests. He’s been more consistent, confident, and seems to be thriving offensively. Plus, what fan doesn’t get amped up when he slams the ball through the net? Hands down he’s the best in-game dunker the Celtics have. The farther removed from his heart surgery, the better he gets. Look for Green to continue to step up and take on more of a role for this team.
There’s often a lot of talk about a team’s or a player’s ‘swagger’. Despite the (slightly shameful) loss to Charlotte, these Celtics have swagger. Kevin Garnett knows “…we’re a bunch of fighters. I know we’ve got a bunch of competitive guys in here…a bunch of talent… it’s all about putting it together and seeing what we can do together.” Doc Rivers mixed and matched them to seven straight victories — pretty impressive considering many in this town couldn’t wait to ‘blow it up.’
Is it unreasonable to say the Celtics are a better club without Rondo? I don’t think so. So far they have been. Two weeks ago they were faced with a choice: let the situation control them, or take control of the situation. I for one am glad they chose the latter. As their roster continues to deplete they will continue to reinvent themselves. With Leandro Barbosa now out for the season after suffering a nasty knee injury, they’ll need to find yet another way to win.
Read: More Of ‘Tracy’s Take’
After what this team has proved to the city and its fans over the last two weeks, I hope the vibe in the Garden Wednesday is off the hook. They’re going to need as much energy surrounding them as they can get when they face a young and aggressive Bulls team who are 15-9 on the road, but also dealing with their own roster issues. These two teams last faced each other January 18th in a game where Pierce and KG had off nights and Rondo scored a season high 30 points. The Bulls edged the Celtics 100-99 thanks to an overtime stunner by Marco Belinelli.
The C’s will be tested Wednesday night, but they’ll also be eager to avenge January’s loss and head into the All-Star break on a winning note. My gut tells me this game will be a defensive showdown with a close score — as usually is the case when the Celtics and Bulls get together.
Tracy Clements is a weekend producer on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow her on twitter at @clementine_12.