This season, the Eastern Conference has been weak in the NBA. Weak enough that the Boston Celtics, having lost 16 of their last 19 games, are still within striking range of nabbing the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. It is not often that a team has much chance of being bound for the lottery as for the playoffs.
Even at 17-33, their record puts them only five games back of the eighth seed Charlotte Bobcats. By winning five games, Boston could actually be bound for the playoffs, rather than the lottery. With the return of Rajon Rondo, and Avery Bradley coming back after having missed the last five games with a sprained ankle, the Celtics finally have their starting backcourt again.
The re-emergence of that starting backcourt is going to be important for them. Just as important as Rondo getting back into his groove, and finding teammates the way that only he can. The Rondo/Bradley combo has given many teams fits. Even though they are both undersized for their positions, neither lets that stop them. Bradley is one of the most fierce on-ball defenders, and Rondo is the guy who started full-man pressing other teams even before Bradley came on board.
Although the sample size of their collaboration is small, there is enough evidence for Bradley and Rondo to be considered nightmares for opposing teams. The key to the their success has always been about the team effort; the Boston Celtics as a whole. For the most part, they have been one of those teams that competes night in and night out. They beat the defending champion Heat without Rondo earlier in the year, a feat that nobody believed possible for them at the time.
Many have suggested that the Boston Celtics should just give up. In the eyes of many fans and haters, it would be better to send out their second team each game and admit that they are deliberately tanking. The goal of getting the worst record possible so as to get the highest draft pick, has been proposed as preferable to a middle-of-the-road performance that does not benefit them in terms of playoff berths or lottery picks. That is not the mentality that the Celtics have ever adopted, however, and the stated goal of the coaches and management has always been that they should do everything within reason to get into the playoffs.
They have done better than most expected in light of a young, new coaching team and the loss of Garnett and Pierce. They haven’t had Rondo all year, just getting him back a couple of weeks ago, and the real potential exists with his return to challenge for a playoff spot. The local fans know that as well as anyone, and an attempt to tank at this point would not be received well by any of the paying customers at the TD Garden.
The few games he has been back, have been like a pre-season for him. He’s been just working himself back into regular season shape. He hasn’t averaged 30 min a game yet, and sat out every second game of a back-to-back so far. That said, Rondo still manages to average just shy of a double-double, and flirts with triple doubles. This is just the regular season, and anyone who has followed the team knows what to expect from his post-season form.
Those who have watched Rondo know that when the lights are brightest, Rondo steps up his game. He transforms, and becomes “playoff Rondo.” He starts dropping triple-doubles like it was nothing. The potential of Rondo reunited with Avery presents a strong argument for Boston to make the playoffs. Their record may not reflect it, the team being at 32.7 percent right now, but for most of those games, they didn’t have their floor general. Now that they do, they could well be a playoff team that can make a run at a title.
Many see the possibility as remote, given their performance of late, but the potential is there. Die-hard fans that look at the glass half full don’t have much of a stretch to make to believe “anything is possible.” Rondo will see his minutes extended as the season goes on, and just by being out there, Rondo changes the entire complexion of the game. Teams have to make adjustments just because Rondo is out there. With five games out of the eighth seed, and 33 more games, the odds are not as bad as one might expect of the Boston Celtics being bound for the playoffs. That in mind, thoughts of tanking for a lottery bid are rapidly being left behind.
By Justin Watts