Has Rondo run with the torch?


Has Rondo run with the torch?

In the weeks and months leading up to this NBA season, we spent a ridiculous amount of time talking about the Celtics' "torch." Who should carry it? Is it time to pass it? Where do they even keep this thing, and is it gas or something more medieval?

After hours of discussion, we settled on the following:

1. The torch was Rajon Rondos for the taking. It was finally time for him to assume ownership of this team, and hit the ground the running as the next great leader in Boston Celtics history.

From Cousy to Russell to Havlicek to Cowens to Bird to the Big 3 to Reggie to . . . Dino Radja? . . . to Antoine to Pierce to the Big 3 (vol. 2) and now . . . to Rondo. It was his turn.

2. Of equal importance, it was time for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to willingly step aside and allow Rondo to grab the spotlight. (Instead of letting things materialize into an awkward Ray Allen-type tug-o-war.)

Thats it. That was the plan. And while this kind of narrative is often nothing but a pile of media-generated garbage, in this case, there was more. Like Seinfelds mnage-a-trois roommates, the Celtics were "into it." And none of them were remotely shy about declaring support for a shift in the hierarchy.

We had a meeting to start the season and they said this is my team, Rondo said in September. To allow me to lead the way speaks a lot to their character. Obviously, its not easy to let a young guy take charge. I earned their respect. I think its time for me to accept the role and step up.

So, has he?

Were barely a month into the season, but I dont think its too early to ask that question. Or at least, to investigate how the face and identity of this team has evolved since Rondo grabbed the proverbial torch and hopped into the proverbial drivers seat. Has anything really changed? And if so, how? And why? And does it even matter?

Lets take a look.

First of all, theres no question that Rondos transformation is most glaring on the surface. In a broader, more basic and traditional sense, he easily stands alone in the Celtics superstar spotlight. Hes the most galvanizing player. Hes the most dominant player. Hes the most ridiculed player. Hes the most complicated player. Hes the player most likely to land a new commercial deal, to represent Boston in the All-Star game, to appear on SportsCenters Top 10 andor be at the center of any national NBA campaign. He is the guy. He is the franchise.

These days, in the hours leading up to a big game or for that matter, any game theres barely any buzz surrounding Pierce and Garnett. Theyre secondary players in the hype. When you think about: Who are Pierce and Garnetts biggest rivals in todays NBA? Who are you dying to see them face-off against?

Pierce-LeBron isnt what it used to be. Pierce-World Peace barely exists. Pierce-Melo is nice, but never quite registered with the others. As for Garnett, yeah, it was fun watching him and Tim Duncan last week, but more than anything, that was nostalgia. In terms of real, top-notch, marquee-drawing rivalries, its all nostalgia for Pierce and KG.

On the other hand, we cant get enough of the point guards. The rivalries between Rondo and PaulParkerWestbrookWilliamsHolidayJenningsetc. are at the center of every NBA discussion, on a local and national level. In fact, at this point, Rondos place among the leagues elite PGs pretty much makes up the bulk of Bostons national identity. In other words, they are defined by Rondos success.

But thats all perception. To this point, everything Ive mentioned is perception; how others see and react to whats going on with the Celtics as opposed to how things are actually playing out on the inside or in plain sight out on the court. And in that sense, the passing of the torch has been pretty overrated. I dont say that as a criticism of Rondo as much as of the people who overrated it to begin with, but either way, heres the reality.

Possession of the torch hasnt had a profound effect on Rondos game, or on the way that he approaches it. There are still nights when hes one of the best players on the planet, but there are still nights when hes not ready to give the Celtics what they need. When theres a reluctance to defend the perimeter, attack the hoop and get to the foul line as much as he should. There are still times when you wonder if he might care about his assist total just a little too much.

Of course, I'm splitting hairs here. There's no question that Rondo is one of the best point guards in the league, and there are few guys I'd rather have running my team. But coming into this season, the expectations both mentally and physically were off the charts, and to this point Rondo's not quite there.

But on the bright side, even though theyve forfeited the spotlight, Pierce and Garnett are still shining in the background, and supporting Rondo in ways that may now go overlooked, but are as essential as ever.

So far, Pierce is the only Celtic to hit double-figures in every game this season. And while hes struggled some from the field shooting a career-low .438 percent hes shooting a career-high 43 percent from three-point land and 87 percent from the foul line. Hes also averaging 20 points a night for only the second time since KG's arrival, and still gets to the line more than six times a game, while averaging nearly 5.5 rebounds. Sure, there a times when it's very clear that hes 35 years old, but thats nothing new. This isnt the first season that Pierce has shown signs of age. More importantly, he shows just as many signs of still being able to hang with the best like he did on Friday night, when he put the C's on his back against OKC.

Like Pierce, Garnetts scoring is up this season. In fact, his 15.9 points per game would be his best since 2008. Like Pierce, he also can't bring it every night (which is why they need Rondo so much in the first), but he still picks his moments, and carries the Celtics in his own way. The passing of the torch seems to have been good to Garnett in that it alleviates some of the pressure that he's dealt with over his legendary career. I think it's made for a looser KG. Not in terms of his intensity, but in his willingness to take big shots. And while's he's maybe lost a half a step on defense, his presence within the Celtics framework is just as defined, and still affects the Green in ways that Rondo never will.

But that won't matter as much to the rest of the league. In their eyes, the Celtics are Rondo's team now. Regardless of what actually happens, he's the guy who will get the credit. He's the guy who will end up in the MVP discussion and find his way to All-Star Weekend. And you know what? He should. He deserves it. Pierce and KG have already been there, done that, and don't need that kind of attention anymore. However, with a month now in the books, they probably deserve some.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics nearly blow fourth quarter lead, hold on to beat Nets, 122-117


Celtics nearly blow fourth quarter lead, hold on to beat Nets, 122-117

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics are not used to being the hunted, or holding a comfortable lead over teams they should beat easily.

That inexperience nearly cost them their season opener against Brooklyn which rallied back from a 23-point deficit to within a field goal of tying the game in the final seconds of play.

But the Celtics managed to hold on for a 122-117 win.

For most of the game, it went according to the script many would have expected to see played out on the TD Garden floor.

Brooklyn put up a good fight, Boston got it together in the second half and the game is over.

Not so fast, says the Nets.

Head coach Brad Stevens tried to rest his starters in the fourth, but the Celtics’ second unit simply didn’t get it done as they nearly squandered a commanding fourth quarter lead.

It was somewhat fitting that they were on the floor to finish off the pesky Nets considering they were the main reasons why Brooklyn was in such a deep fourth quarter hole.

With the win, the Celtics are now 44-27 all-time in season openers and 32-13 at home.

Making the win even sweeter was the fact that because it was so decisive, it allowed head coach Brad Stevens to rest most of his core players who will return to the floor Thursday night to play the Chicago Bulls.

Celtics all-star guard Isaiah Thomas was in double-double range most of the second half before finishing with 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds.

Boston also got a strong night from Jae Crowder who had 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting to go with four rebounds and two assists.

And while the numbers weren’t all that impressive, Al Horford delivered the kind of performance that speaks to his ability to impact the game positively for Boston in a multitude of ways.

He finished with 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with five rebounds and six assists in just 25 minutes of action.

Depth was a strength of the Boston Celtics last season, and it seems to be an even bigger weapon for them now.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens went 10-deep in the first half with each Celtic who stepped on the floor in the first two quarters scoring at least two points.

The Nets came in as heavy underdogs, a team that many anticipate will be among the worst in the NBA this season.

“We can’t worry about that stuff,” Brooklyn’s Trevor Booker told CSNNE.com prior to Wednesday’s game. “The big thing for us is to go out and compete, give ourselves a chance to be successful.”

Brooklyn did just that for most of the Wednesday’s game, but Boston’s talent and depth proved to be too much.

Crowder got things poppin’ at the start of the game by making his first four shots from the field.

But the Nets didn’t buckle, but instead got a multitude of players chipping in with a bucket here or defensive stop there to keep the game from getting out of hand.

Brooklyn’s Jeremy Lin, a former star at nearby Harvard, was among the Nets players keeping the game relatively close. He finished with 18 points.

But the second half was once again dominated early on by Crowder who scored in a variety of ways which included stealing an in-bounds pass and banking in a mid-range jumper in the third quarter.

That play was part of a 26-16 run by Boston to close out the third quarter which ended with the Celtics ahead 97-81.

Brooklyn continued to play scrappy basketball in the fourth, but the Celtics had built up too big a cushion for the Nets to present any kind of real threat to Boston’s control.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics in control, but Nets within striking distance


Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics in control, but Nets within striking distance

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics were in control most of the first half, but the Brooklyn Nets managed to stay within striking distance most of the first half which ended with the Celtics ahead, 64-58.

It was a high-scoring first half, the kind that one of the league’s top defenses shouldn’t experience.

But it is the first game of the season and the Celtics clearly have some kinks defensively to work out.

The Celtics led by as many as 13 points in the first half with contributions coming from several players in the starting unit as well as off the bench.

Boston has spent a good chunk of the preseason preaching the importance of good ball movement.

It was indeed on full display as Boston had 19 assists in the first half on 23 made baskets.

As for the Nets, Bogan Bogdanovic kept Brooklyn within striking distance most of the first half as he tallied 10 points through the first two quarters of play. Brooklyn also got a nice lift from Justin Hamilton who had 14 first-half points off the Brooklyn bench.

Here are our halftime Stars, Studs and Duds



Isaiah Thomas

Thomas was a more assertive player in the second quarter and it paid off for the him and the Celtics. He finished the half with a team-high 11 points in addition to doling out a game-high seven assists.

Jae Crowder

Boston displayed some crisp ball movement in the first half, and Crowder seemed to benefit from this more than any other Celtic. Through two quarters of play, Crowder has a team-high 10 points which included him making his first four shots from the floor.



Sean Kilpatrick

The Nets only have five players on their roster from last season’s disastrous 21-win club, and Kilpatrick showed why he’s one of the few holdovers. At the half, he had nine points off the bench to go with three rebounds.



Brook Lopez

He’s supposed to be the Nets’ best player, but you would not have known this by his play in the first half, The 7-foot Lopez was a non-factor through the first two quarters of lay, missing four of his five field goal attempts to go into the half with just three points.