The Celtics allowed the Clippers to put up a spectacular offensive efficiency rating of 114.9 points/100 possessions in Wednesday’s game. Fair blame went to a number of culprits including Nenad Krstic, the Celtics’ tendency to take lesser opponents lightly, a brand-new bench mob that barely knew each other’s names much less the defensive systems, and pointedly, the porous perimeter defense which allowed Mo Williams to go off for 28 points and forced the rest of the Celtics into rotational havoc when Clipper attackers stormed the paint.
Rajon Rondo took a fair amount of blame for the breakdowns and he was not without fault. In one grisly stretch in the fourth quarter, Rondo fouled Williams on a three-point attempt, left Williams alone at the arc to splash down another three, got outrun in transition, got blown by on a pick and roll when he reached in looking for a steal, didn’t get around a pick, which set up another open Williams three-ball, and let Williams drive past him and dish the ball for a dunk.
Why did Rondo play so poorly on D down the stretch?
This is why:
He was gassed.
Rondo played 43 minutes on Wednesday, including the entire second half. For the year, the Celtics’ PG is averaging 38.0 minutes per game, which is 10th most in the league. His minutes per month totals are trending disturbingly: 36.1 in January, 39.0 in February and 40.5 so far in March.
This is more than a bit worrying if you’re anticipating needing Rondo for 40+ minutes a night against the class of the Western Conference in June.
Doc Rivers is to be forgiven for playing Rondo heavy minutes for a few reasons: the kid is young and more than willing to stay on the floor for long stretches, the Celtics need his shot creation abilities on offense, and, of course, with Delonte West, Nate Robinson and Avery Bradley being unreliable for reasons of — respectively — injury, unsuitability and incompetence, Rivers had few other palatable choices over the first 60 games, save running Paul Pierce into the ground with point forward duties.
Rondo was a step behind Williams even in the first quarter Wednesday night. But he was consistently fighting over picks and had sufficient energy to play both ends of the floor. By the fourth quarter, that had changed. And it wasn’t the first time we’d seen him on the court in 2011, with his fuel tank red lining.
Which is why Rivers has to manage his point guard’s minutes more carefully down the stretch.
Delonte West is targeted for a return in the next week (allegedly Sunday), but we’ve heard that story before and it didn’t end happily.
So if West doesn’t return, Carlos Arroyo, who is neither injured nor unsuitable nor incompetent can’t just be an end of the bench player for the next five weeks. He needs real minutes on the court so 1) he’s ready if West’s health proves a problem into the spring and 2) so the Celtics can get Rondo enough rest to prime him for the playoffs.