The most-hyped Eastern Semifinals Game One ever was actually underhyped, in a sense. Referring specifically to the fact that, you know, Osama bin Laden died during the game.
I don’t think official time of death reports are out yet, but I’m getting this from the gentleman who tweeted about the raid while it was happening. His tweets put it at around 4:00 or 4:30 Eastern time. So around when Rondo got his third foul and Miami went on that huge second-quarter run, Osama bin Laden was being killed in Abbottabad. Not really sure what you should do with that knowledge, other than imagine how much crazier ABC’s game promos would have been if they had known this was going to happen. Would they have sent the talking basketball or Nicole Scherzinger to break the news?
Anyway, enough about cathartic retribution: time to complain about a basketball game!
Because the rest of what was going on, other than Osama bin Laden being killed, was not good for the Celtics. The rest of it was bad. Good runs were neutralized by bad play, and good play was neutralized by terrible officiating and poor minutes allocation.
Brian already discussed the three flagrant calls and non-calls that didn’t go the Celtics’ way, and I’ll add to that the 18-32 free throw disparity in Miami’s favor, despite the fact that Boston took several more shots at the rim. But that’s only a little out of the ordinary for a road game. Not sure it entirely makes up the difference in the game.
What does make up that difference, for me, is how Doc overreacted to foul trouble. More after the jump.
Rondo didn’t look great in this game. He moved slowly enough for Mike Bibby and his two clubbed feet to stick with him, and he shot 30 percent from the dang floor even though he didn’t take any shots outside the key. But the Celtics offense without him on the floor was, to be kind, the worst ever in history.
When Rondo came out with 11:17 to go in the second, the Celtics were down by four. They didn’t score again until 7:46, during which the Heat went on a 9-0 run and the Celtics missed five shots, blew one dunk, and gave up two turnovers. They could do nothing. The ball moved slowly enough for Miami to send double coverage against virtually every shot, the result being that none of the looks were even passable. Meanwhile, on the other end, the defensive rotations were at their sloppiest and James Jones hit two of his five threes as a result.
The Celtics never really recovered from that run, and it all happened because Doc had the roster management equivalent of an epileptic seizure when Rondo got his third foul. Understand that sitting players for extended minutes when they get into foul trouble is not smart. In the pantheon of Dumb Things Coaches Inexplicably Still Do, it’s right there next to “bunting with one out” and “punting on 4th-and-1 on the other team’s 45-yard-line.” It’s ostensibly supposed to maximize a player’s minutes, but in reality it works against that goal. Think of it as childproofing your home by throwing your baby down the stairs.
Doc benched Rondo for the entire second quarter, and so Rondo ended up only playing 29 minutes. Is that not what Doc was supposed to be trying to avoid? Imagine if Doc had let Rondo stay in the game on a normal schedule: Rondo would have continued to guard Mike Bibby, the least threatening foul-drawer on the Heat, and MAYBE would have drawn his sixth foul with threes minutes or so left in the game. That’s being pessimistic; as it was he only committed one more foul in the next 21 minutes. But even under that scenario, Rondo plays at least seven or eight more minutes.
Why are those extra minutes important? Because the Celtics outscored the Heat by SEVEN POINTS when he was in the game. Thinking about that in a different but equally interesting way, the Heat outscored the Celtics by 16 in the 19 minutes Rondo was on the bench. Cut those sitting minutes in half and the Celtics are in this one. If he fouls out, then Doc did his job. He maximized Rondo’s minutes.
Now, to clarify, that isn’t all Rondo showing up in those plus/minus stats. Also making his negative presence known was Glen Davis, who was usually in when Rondo was out and was defensively woebegone the entire time, probably just as confused as we were why Jermaine O’Neal only got eight minutes in the first half. He ended up with a minus-21. Delonte West and Jeff Green were also significant parts of the problem. Delonte hit a couple of threes, but he more than made up for it with his defense on Wade and oblivious pullup jumpers. As for Jeff Green, it seems the only thing to do now is to remind ourselves that Jeff Green is trying very hard and to funnel our aggression elsewhere. I mean, what’s he supposed to do, not accept the trade? It’s somebody else’s fault that Jeff Green is on the Celtics and contributing nothing.
But it’s undeniable that everyone is better with Rondo on the floor. That’s the hope from this game: when Rondo was out there, the Celtics won. And if Doc elects to play Rondo more than 29 minutes next time, they could extend that win to an actual game.