Rondo's absence felt in Game 1 loss

Rondo's absence felt in Game 1 loss
April 20, 2013, 7:30 pm
Share This Post
(AP Photo)

NEW YORK — When Rajon Rondo went down with a torn right ACL injury in January, the Boston Celtics managed to find ways to win in his absence.

But this is the playoffs, a time when Rondo has elevated his game like no other Celtic.

There was little doubt that the C's would miss him in the postseason, a point driven home in Boston's 85-78 Game 1 loss to New York.

The Celtics' turnovers, errant passes and overall lack of execution just screamed, WE NEED RONDO!!

And while there's certainly nothing the C's can do to replace him, that doesn't make his absence any less noteworthy.

As Kevin Garnett spoke with the media following a deep sigh, his first words addressed arguably the two biggest problems for the Celtics in Game 1.

"Turnovers, man," Garnett said. "Like twenty turnovers and I think 10 offensive rebounds, that's too much. Plus playing on the road, playing a really good team that's energized. You don't help yourself; you don't give yourself a chance to win like that."

It was actually 21 turnovers, but when you get that high, being off by one means nada!

Now certainly the Knicks' defense played a role in the C's mistakes. But far too many of Boston's turnovers (they led to 20 points for New York)  were of the self-inflicted wound variety.

If it wasn't an Avery Bradley pass or a Jason Terry pass that was deflected and then recovered by the Knicks, it was Jeff Green being called for traveling while in transition.

And yet as bad as the Celtics were playing, they still managed to lead for significant chunks of the game.

Boston was ultimately done in by a horrendous fourth quarter in which they missed eight of their 11 shot attempts. Making matters worse, they allowed the Knicks to get 10 more shot attempts in the fourth courtesy of a 4-1 advantage on the offensive boards while turning the ball over eight times compared to the Knicks who played a turnover-less fourth.

"For us, we have to do a better job with our execution," said Paul Pierce who had 21 points and seven assists.

And much of that responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of Avery Bradley, a natural off-guard who has had no choice but to play more at the point.

While the Celtics certainly had to feel good about Bradley's contributions defensively as well as scoring 15 points in Game 1, he was among the Boston players who racked up way too many turnovers with many of them being unforced.

"We had a lot of turnovers tonight," said Bradley who had four turnovers. "We have to take care of the ball and play the right way."

He added, "we got away from our game plan and the ball was sticking a lot."

What the C's needed more than anything else was someone on the floor who could make the on-the-fly changes needed in order to get the C's back on track.

They needed Rondo.

Prior to the game, Doc Rivers mentioned that he was concerned about not having Rondo for the first time to start a postseason series since Rondo became a Celtic.

"I've never gone into a game or series without a point guard on the team," Rivers said. "We don't have a point guard."

New York didn't pressure the ball nearly as much as a number of teams did.

Instead, the Knicks did their part to get back defensively and force Bradley or Paul Pierce or whoever was handling the ball, to make the kind of split-second, point guard-like decisions that Rondo often makes look like child's play.

And when the game mattered most - the fourth quarter - the Celtics simply could not get it done as the game's pressure intensified and every possession became even more valuable.

"With Rondo, you have the ability to think your way out of it," Rivers said. "That's been taken away from us, and that's a big chunk of your offense obviously."

The lockdown in the city of Boston prevented Rondo from joining the team until yesterday. But during their walk-through Saturday morning, Rondo was there.

Not only was he there, but he did what Rondo tends to do a lot - make his presence known.

"He knew every set the Knicks were running," Rivers said. "Every time we called a set out to walk through it, he was pointing where everybody (was supposed to be). It's amazing. He's always been that way. He's not playing and yet he studied the book. There's gotta be some good value in that."

Rivers is right.

That's the kind of stuff that in some form does indeed benefit a team, if for no other reason than it reinforces to the healthy players that if a guy knows he's not playing but is still locked in mentally, what's your excuse?

But just as important, the healthy Celtics players need to somehow collectively figure out how to elevate their play and their focus - especially down the stretch of a close - in as similar a fashion as they can to Rondo.

"We have to be able to trust the pass," Rivers said. "We've worked on it for eight weeks, preparing for this. And we'll find out if we can do it. I told our guys, it's not one guy that's going to grab the ball and run our team. We don't have that. So don't worry about it; just keep passing the ball and find the open guy."

But as the Celtics are discovering, Rivers' words just like winning playoff games without Rondo, is easier said than done.