Rondo struggling without a true backup


Rondo struggling without a true backup

By A.Sherrod Blakely

BOSTON The season could not have gotten off to a better start for Rajon Rondo.

His numbers in just about every category were on the rise as he emerged as an early dark-horse MVP candidate.

But since the fast start, Rondo's game has cooled off considerably.

He's still the NBA's assists leader this season, but he has failed to record 10 or more assists in Boston's last five games -- his longest such stretch this season.

So what happened?

A lot, actually.

If you trace the origin of Rondo's game falling off some, it was around the Feb. 24 deadline in which the Celtics traded away Kendrick Perkins, one of Rondo's closest friends.



More problematic for Rondo has been the fact that for the bulk of this season, he hasn't had a true backup at the point guard position.

Nate Robinson had the job for a while before being traded, but Robinson's minutes were limited because he was inconsistent.

That's not a surprise when you consider putting him at the point was, in effect, asking him to play a position that doesn't play to his strengths.

Injuries and a suspension limited Delonte West to just eight games played this season.

His most recent ailment has been a sprained ankle that has lasted nearly two weeks.

West told earlier that he was going to play Wednesday against Indiana "for sure," but with West -- and injuries -- you just never really know.

And then there was Avery Bradley, the Celtics' first-round pick from last June's NBA draft.

A 6-foot-3 combo guard, Bradley has had his ups and downs running the Celtics offense, which is why they felt implored to go out and sign Carlos Arroyo last week.

Rondo finally has a backup, and he couldn't be any more thrilled about it.

"He's a legit point guard, pass-first point guard," Rondo told "He's very vocal. He plays smart. He knows what to look for. That's a great pick up for us."

Rondo has missed action earlier this season with plantar fasciitis, but it is unclear if that is a factor in his recent struggles.

Both Rondo and coach Doc Rivers said health-wise, the previous injuries he has been dealing with are not issues now.

"He's human," Rivers said after Boston's 88-79 loss at New Jersey on Monday. "He's going to go through stretches just like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. They've all gone through stretches."

But it's different with Rondo simply because of the role that he plays in the C's success.

Offensively, he is the initiator.

Even though Garnett is the Celtics' defensive anchor, Rondo's defense typically sets the tone for the rest of the team.

With that backdrop, it's not surprising that Rondo believes he has to be the one to get the C's back on track.

"Yeah, I think . . . just trying to get healthy," said Rondo, who tweaked his right ankle against the Nets and had to leave the game to have it re-taped before returning. "It's been a long season."

The addition of Carlos Arroyo should help lessen Rondo's load some, which is something Rondo acknowledges can only help him and the Celtics.

"He's a legit point guard, pass-first point guard," Rondo told "He runs a team, he's very vocal. He plays smart. He knows what to look for. That's a great pick-up for us."

And while Rondo wants to play every minute he can, he's been in the grind long enough to know that any chance to get some rest heading into the playoffs, should not be shunned.

"It helps with the rest, as far as getting some rest," Rondo said. "Especially going into the playoffs, the more he's comfortable, the more he'll know what we're looking for as a team, the more rest I'll get. It'll only help my game."

And that would allow Rondo a chance to finish the season off about where it began -- at the top of his game in helping lead the Celtics to victory.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Despite series lead, Celtics lament their inability to hit open shots

Despite series lead, Celtics lament their inability to hit open shots

BOSTON – There are many factors you can point to in the regular season as indicators of what may happen when two NBA  teams meet in the playoffs.

You don't have to be inside the Chicago Bulls' locker room to know that when it comes to the Celtics, they were fully prepared to face a team that took a lot of 3's but wasn’t necessarily shooting them at a high percentage. 
That reality has certainly come into focus in Boston’s first-round series against the Chicago, one the C’s lead 3-2 as they continue to try and 3-point shoot their way on to the next round – without giving a damn how many long-range shots it takes to get the job done. 

In five playoff games, Boston is shooting 45.3 percent from the field, which puts them in the middle of the pack (eighth overall) among the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason.
But when it comes to the long ball, they are on the back-nine of playoff teams, ranking 10th while shooting 32.4 percent from 3-point range while leading all postseason clubs with 38.7 3-point attempts per game.

In the regular season, the Celtics ranked 16th in field-goal percentage (.454) and 14th in 3-point shooting (35.9 percent) while attempting 33.4 3's per game, which trailed only Houston (40.3) and Cleveland (33.9) this season.  

Boston's shooting from the field mirrors what it did in the regular season, but they know all too well that their shooting percentage in this series should be much higher due to the high number of open shots they have missed. 
Take a look at Game 5.
In the 108-97 win, the Celtics shot an impressive 53.1 percent when their shots were contested.
But let the Bulls have a defensive breakdown like a failed switch, or a guy gets beat for what turns into a great opportunity for Boston to score with no resistance, and instead of burying the open shot, the Celtics have  consistently blown those opportunities. That’s evident by the C’s connecting on just 30.8 percent (12-for-39) of their uncontested field-goal attempts in Game 5.
Even the usually reliable Isaiah Thomas had issues making uncontested shots in Game 5 and this series as a whole.
He had 24 points and shared game-high scoring honors with Avery Bradley on Wednesday night, but Thomas probably should have led everyone outright in scoring when you consider he had five open shots and wound up missing four of them.
That’s why when it comes to Boston’s offense, the last thing Thomas or any of his teammates complains about is getting the shots they want.
“I’ve been getting good open looks,” he said. “My teammates have been getting me open. We just got to knock down the shots. Coach [Stevens] keeps saying one day soon we’re going to knock down the open shots that we are missing and it might be [Game 6].”


Even the Bulls’ star agrees, the Bradley-Butler matchup goes Celtics’ way

Even the Bulls’ star agrees, the Bradley-Butler matchup goes Celtics’ way

CHICAGO – Jimmy Butler was outplayed by Avery Bradley.
It’s a bold statement, one co-authored by both Bradley and Butler after the Celtics’ 108-97 Game 5 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Only time will tell if we’ll see another chapter added to what was one of the more surprising narratives to develop in this series.
“I didn’t win the matchup,” Butler, visibly dejected, said after the Bulls’ loss.
Bradley confirmed his individual victory when asked about it after the game, and then added, “I’m trying to make it hard on him. Butler is a very good player and my job for our team is to go out there and defend, try not to foul, and make [Butler] work for every shot and make him work on both ends of the floor. That’s what I tried to do [in Game 5].”
The 6-foot-2 Bradley will have a similar game plan on Friday as the Celtics try and close out the series with a win and move on to Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012.
While Butler isn’t one to make excuses in good or bad times, there was a report in that raised the possibility that Butler might be dealing with some kind of knee injury.
In Game 5, Butler had 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting while taking just two shots from the field in the decisive fourth quarter after drilling a last-second 3-pointer that put the Bulls ahead 81-79 going into the fourth.
“"I'm good,” Butler told reporters after the loss. “Everyone's a little nicked up; I'll be all right."
Healthy or not, there was no getting around the job Bradley did against Butler at both ends of the floor.
In addition to doing a better-than-average job defensively, Bradley also had a career playoff-high 24 points on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting.
The job that Bradley did in Game 5 speaks to why Stevens has reiterated time and time again just how valuable he has been to the Celtics’ success in recent years.
“Avery’s really important to our team; we’ve said that all year,” Stevens said. “He’s played great the last couple of games and I think that Jimmy Butler’s a hard guy to guard, Dwyane Wade’s hard to guard – you’re not going to stop those guys but you just try to make it as hard as possible, and I thought all our guys did a pretty good job when they switched on to Butler [in Game 5]. But certainly Avery is the guy that starts the game on him, and has played a lot of minutes on him, and has done a really good job.”
Butler took 15 shots from the field, 12 of which were contested (most by Bradley) with only four of those makes.
Meanwhile, 13 of Bradley’s 19 field goal attempts in Game 5 were contested. But that didn’t stop him from knocking down eight of them, which was more made contested shots than any other player in Game 5.
But in the end it was Bradley’s defense that ultimately led to him winning the head-to-head battle with Butler and even more important, the game.
The importance of Bradley in matching up with Butler can be seen in a number of statistical areas, none of which is more telling than the minutes played by both players.
Butler logged a team-high 39 minutes, 17 seconds, while Bradley was on the floor for 39 minutes, 44 seconds.
Stevens acknowledged part of Boston’s game plan was to try and keep Bradley on the floor with Butler as much as possible, but still be flexible enough to switch when needed.
“As long as Wade and Butler were on the floor, yes, I felt that way,” Stevens said. “But I trust our other guys to guard [Butler].”
And they trust Bradley, a first team All-NBA defender last season who has shown himself to be up to the challenge of not just holding his own against Butler but also displaying the ability to outplay him on any given night – like Game 5.