Has Rondo run with the torch?

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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

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.