I understand having a letdown every once in a while. But when you’ve lost 3 out of your past 5 games heading into yesterday’s matchup with the Rockets, you’d think the Celtics would play with a little bit of intensity. Especially on the defensive end.
The Rockets shot lights-out in the 2nd quarter, building a sizeable lead that was ultimately too large for the Celtics to overcome. But a large part of Rockets’ success can be attributed to the C’s poor defensive showing. Boston allowed a season-high 62 first-half points, consistently allowing Houston to beat them off the dribble, get uncontested mid-range looks, and take open 3-pointers. Too often, the C’s were one step behind on their defensive rotations, and the ease in which the Rockets executed on offense was increasingly frustrating as the game went on.
Big picture: The Celtics’ 93-77 loss to Houston will only matter if the C’s fail to lock up the #1 seed. Otherwise, nobody’s going to remember this game once May rolls around. Fortunately, the Bulls lost last night, so the Celtics remain tied in the loss column with Chicago in the standings. Frankly, I think it’s silly when people say the #1 seed isn’t all that important. This is not last year. Not only are the Celtics a year older, but the competition is better.
The Chicago Bulls are better than the 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2010 Orlando Magic. Heck, the Miami Heat probably are, too. Obviously, the Celtics could pull off a series-victory against either team, even if they were the higher seed. But I don’t think Doc Rivers, nor the Celtics’ players, should be settling for anything less than the best record in the East. Personally, the thought of playing a Game 7 in Chicago scares me. And hopefully it scares the Celtics enough to the point where they really turn it on over the remaining 15 games.
***Let’s dig into Rajon Rondo for a minute. After Wednesday’s game, Kevin Garnett told the media that Rondo is playing hurt. That he’s going up against some of the best players in the league, giving everything he has for this Celtics’ team, and that he’s banged up.
After yesterday’s game, Rondo continued to dismiss any ideas that he is suffering from a serious injury. Or at least that’s what he’s telling us.
“Everybody’s asked me, am I hurt?’’ Rondo said. “I’m fine. It’s an 82-game season. It’s long. Nothing is, I don’t think, too serious. We all have aches and pains, but I don’t think that it’s nothing that’s able to keep me out. I’m playing, I’m just not playing well.
“It’s simple,’’ he said. “I’m just missing shots. That seems to be the biggest thing that stands out. I haven’t been making my shots lately, shots or layups. I’ve just got to try to continue and eventually I’ll just get through it.’’
Is it possible that Rondo is more banged up than he’s leading us to believe? Absolutely. Rondo never makes excuses for anything and that’s why we love him. But regardless of how injured he is feeling these days, it is fair to say he is not playing with that borderline-arrogance that makes him so great.
As we’ve all learned from watching Rondo over the years, there is a strong correlation between his confidence and his performance. He’s not someone like Ray Allen who has the same belief that every shot he takes is going in the basket. When Ray goes on a cold streak, he simply shrugs it off because he knows he’s bound to get hot soon. Rondo’s play, for better or worse, fluctuates with his confidence to make shots, get to the rim, and be a shut-down defender.
Last night, Rondo’s slump continued as he shot 2-11 for 4 points, 6 assists and 2 rebounds. That gives him a 4 game total of 8 points, 26 assists and 9 rebounds. And yes, the Celtics have lost 3 of those games, if you needed any further reminder that this team goes as Rondo goes.
During the first month of the season, I really believe Rondo felt he was the best point guard in the league. He felt he could do anything, and he went out and had several record-breaking performances. Now it’s simply a matter of Rondo breaking out of his slump. Or getting healthy. Whatever you think the case may be.