Celtics-Pacers preview: Rondo's balancing act huge for C's


Celtics-Pacers preview: Rondo's balancing act huge for C's

BOSTON If Rajon Rondo had his way, he would spend all game just setting guys up for shots, racking up assists.

But on this Boston Celtics team this season, Rondo has to do more - much more than that - in order for the C's to be successful.

Getting Rondo to become a more aggressive scorer more consistently is one of the many challenges facing head coach Doc Rivers.

As far as pushing the right buttons to get Rondo to be more aggressive, Rivers says, "that button is pushed all the time. When Rondo has the ball he has to be an aggressive scorer."

This season, Rondo is averaging 13 points per game which is slightly below his career-high 13.7 points per game average during the 2009-2010 season.

"I try to let the game develop, but depending on the season my role may change," Rondo said. "I think it has a little bit. I have to maintain my focus and not try to over-do everything. I try to score more, but at the same time still find my teammates, and still score."

Indeed it is a balancing act for the three-time All-star to become more of an offensive force while at the same time stay true to what he does better than anyone in the league - rack up assists.

"That's the definition of a point guard," said Rondo who averages a league-best 11.6 assists per game. "You have to balance out your scoring, but also run the sets. You don't want to be a ball hog or keep the ball, dominate the ball the entire 24 second shot clock. I have talented guys around me."

And while finding them is important, finding ways to score more on his own has value as well.

Rondo's ability to find that happy medium will be a factor in Boston's efforts to snap their season-long losing skid tonight against Indiana. Here are some other factors that may come into play tonight.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Points will once again be tough to come by for the Celtics against an Indiana team that thrives on making life difficult for opponents offensively. Teams are averaging just 90 points per game against the Pacers, the second-best scoring defense in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs Paul George: Pierce will have his hands full defensively against George who has emerged as one of the most improved players this season in part because of an increased opportunity to play with Danny Granger being out.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jared Sullinger seems to keep getting better with each and every opportunity he gets to play. His emergence as a reliable option off the bench who can score and rebound, bodes well in the C's recovery efforts from what has been a disappointing start to the season.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston has to hold its own on the boards, which will allow them to get out and run against a Pacers team that isn't used to having its transition defense challenged much. They are giving up a league-low 9.8 fast-break points per game in large part because they are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the NBA which prevents teams from getting out in transition even after they make an initial defensive stop.

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

BOSTON -- Malcolm Subban still believes he can be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

While that sort of sheer, brazen self-confidence is admirable -- especially after getting yanked from a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden Tuesday -- pretty much all the evidence points to the contrary. Given a shot because of injuries to Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, nearly two years after getting pulled from his only other NHL appearance when he gave up three goals on six shots in St. Louis, Subban was taken out Tuesday night after allowing three goals on eight second-period shots.

He maintained a defiantly confident tone afterwards, a testament to his maturity and mental toughness.

“It sucks," said Subban, who has now allowed six goals on 22 career shots faced in two starts. “Obviously, I’m just trying to finish the game, let alone win one . . . but what can you do now, right?

"Obviously I want to be a No. 1 goaltender in the league. I was a [first-round draft choice] for a reason. I have the potential, and I just have to show it. Obviously I haven’t done that so far yet, but I think I’m getting closer to it. Honestly, I think I can do it right now. I just got to show it . . . I didn’t [do it] today, but tomorrow’s a new day.”

Given the stunningly bad quality of his two NHL starts, combined with a thoroughly pedestrian body of work at the AHL level over the last three years, there is literally zero evidence Subban is tracking to be a franchise goaltender. Meanwhile, a sizeable selection of goaltenders taken after him in the 2012 NHL Draft have proven their worth and advanced to the elite level: Matt Murray. Frederik Anderson. Connor Hellebuyck. Joonas Korpisalo.

Subban was hoping all along to break through this season in Boston, but things went south on him quickly Tuesday in his first chance to do so.

Hampered by a Bruins team not playing well in front of him, the first goal he allowed was a fluttering Charlie Coyle shot that trickled between his glove hand and the top of his leg pad. The third was a softie low and to the glove side, a power-play strike authored by Ryan Suter. Instead of hanging in and giving his team a chance to win, Subban helped put the Bruins in a hole they couldn't escape.

While Claude Julien felt the poor performance "could be a combination" of goaltending and overall defensive lapses, he didn't let Subban off the hook.

“There are some goals -- I’m not going to lie -- there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had," said the coach.

But he also wasn't going to place the blame solely at Subban's feet.

"[I’m] not here to talk about a goaltender -- who’s in one of his first few games -- because he let in a couple of bad goals,” said Julien. “We were terrible in front of him . . .  and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.

“I don’t care who’s in net. I think when you have some injuries you need to be better in those situations and we weren’t good enough tonight. It doesn’t matter if Tuukka is in net and we had injuries up front, or we’re lacking players here or there. You’ve got to let the system take care of the game. If you play it the right way, you have a chance to win. When you don’t, you don’t. That’s what happened [against Minnesota].”

There’s no question the defense in front of Subban wasn’t nearly good enough. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug in particular struggled to lock things down in the defensive zone. The wide-open shots from the slot -- like the Chris Stewart score in the second period 12 seconds after Minnesota’s opening goal -- are indicative of a hockey club that’s not sticking to the game plan once things start to get a little wonky.

But this is about a player (Subban) who should be entering the NHL stage of his career after being a first-round pick in 2012. Anybody would be hard-pressed to see him as an NHL goalie after his two Bruins appearances. Combine that with the lack of dominance at the AHL level over the last three years, and there’s a better chance that Subban will be a major first-round bust rather than a late-blooming No. 1 goaltender.

The scary part is that Subban and fellow young netminder Zane McIntyre are all the Bruins have for Wednesday night’s game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and perhaps longer if Rask can’t make a rapid recovery from his lower body injury.

Maybe Subban can be a bit better than he’s shown thus far, and, to be fair, the three goals allowed to Minnesota weren't all his fault. The bottom line, however, is that he should be up for doing this job right now. Tuesday was a big chance for the young goalie to make a statement that he was ready for it.

Instead he looked like the same goalie who'd been pulled from two of his first four AHL starts this season, one who's never going to truly be ready for the call in Boston.