Winning without Rondo

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Winning without Rondo

When the Celtics take the court tonight in Atlanta, their best player will be locked up in his hotel room.

This is not a good thing.

But it's also not a death sentence.

Here are 1000 scattered words, as the Celtics attempt to steal Game 2:

1. KG and Paul

Lost (or at least overshadowed) in Rajon Rondos Game 1 ejection was the play of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

In KGs defense, he loosened up a bit as the game went on, but generally looked much closer to the guy we all had slated for retirement than the one who might break the bank in free agency. And Pierce was just bad, shooting 5-19 from the field and 0-6 from three. (The last time he took that many threes in a game without hitting at least one: February 2006). How much of that can be blamed on his sore toe? We don't know (yet), but with Rondo out and Ray Allen still a question mark, Game 2 falls on the shoulders of Bostons two remaining (with apologies to the Stiemer) Hall of Famers.

Either way, win or lose, KG and Pierce need to show some life and prove that there's enough left in that hip, or that toe, to compete at the highest level for the next few weeks. If not, the league might as well slap Rondo with a Metta World Peace suspension because it won't matter. As we learned in Game 1, Rondo's not nearly as effective when leading 1-on-4 fast breaks.

But as for tonight, it really comes down to KG and Paul.

Pierce will have to carry far more of the offensive load with Rondo out. The Celtics need the Captain to be a creator, a scorer, to bring the ball up and play consistent defense on a dangerous offensive player without getting tired or finding foul trouble. Oh, and he'll also be performing with Red Panda at halftime. It's a daunting task for Pierce. But we've seen him step into this role so many times over these last 14(!) years, it would be ridiculous to count him out now.

And the same goes for KG, but man, it was scary watching him move around like that on Sunday. Here's hoping he was just shaking off some rust.

Hawk Heads

I don't know what Larry Drew said before Sunday's game (or if he just had Ivan Johnson threaten to annihilate anyone who didn't go hard), but the Hawks came to play. They were locked in from the start, smacked Boston square in the mouth and maintained a mental and physical edge for almost the entire 48 minutes. And the question is: Will that carry into Game 2, or might the 1-0 advantage, combined with Rondo's suspension, mess with Atlanta's mentality?

Here's what Josh Smith had to say yesterday about Rondo:

Thats their energy guy, Smith said. Thats the head of the snake. Thats the guy that gives them emotion, that shares the ball around the horn, keeps everybody satisfied. Hes that guy that plays tough defense. They definitely miss him in the lineup when hes not in there. He does so much for that ball club. Theyre good enough to try to figure out a way to get wins, but with him theyre a lot better."

Now on one hand, Smith was certainly respectful, and smart enough to add that last part about the Celtics still being "good enough." But on the other, you can see the relief in his words. You know that somewhere in the back of his and all of Atlanta's head, they're looking at the Rondo-less Celtics and thinking: "They're nothing without him! We got them right where we want them!" It's human nature. And even if it only results in a slight dip in focus, the Celtics will take it.

The Hawks might not be quite as young as they were in 2008, but they still have a core of guys (Smith, Jeff Teague, Ivan Johnson and Marvin Williams) who are young and like Rondo have some growing up to do. And they've just encountered a huge psychological moment in this series. In one day, they went from playing the role of the heavy doesn't-have-a-chance underdogs to being one Rondo-less game away from having their foot on Boston's throat. Is Atlanta ready for that?

Pressure
The pressure is all on the Hawks here.

Why?

Celtics Worst-Case Scenario: They lose, re-acquire their best player and head home for a huge game in front of one of the better playoff crowds in the business.

Hawks Worst-Case Scenario: They lose, and not only surrender home court advantage, but the Celtics just beat them without Rondo. Every ounce of Game 1 confidence has been extinguished, and now they head up to Boston for two games against a now-revitalized Celtics team playing in front of its home crowd and playing with a rested (five days off for that back!), pissed off and motivated Rajon Rondo. That's always a bad combination for the opponent.

The longer the Celtics can hang around, the greater this advantage becomes.

Game plans
OK, one more random thought, as I grasp at ways for the Celtics to steal Game 2.

A couple paragraphs up, Josh Smith called Rondo "the head of the snake." And that makes sense. (Maybe not as much sense as KG saying that Rondo is "the head that makes the Voltron" but still an acceptable metaphor.)

Anyway, since Rondo is the head, you can bet that Atlanta has spent a ton of time working on ways to cut him off. In fact, they probably spent more time preparing and game-planning around Rondo than anyone on the Celtics roster.

Now, a majority of that strategy is out the window and Atlanta comes in with something that's been largely concocted over the last 24 hours. Of course, the absence of Rondo drastically lowers Atlanta's degree of difficulty, but it also forces them to alter a game plan that they'd spent the last week or so putting together and one game carrying out pretty seamlessly.

Tonight, they'll be up against a snake with no head, which is nowhere near as powerful, but far more unpredictable. (Or am I thinking of chickens?). The Hawks knew what to expect in Game 1. Now they have to be ready for anything.

Well, except Rajon Rondo.

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

Highlights: Atlanta Hawks 114, Boston Celtics 98

Highlights: Atlanta Hawks 114, Boston Celtics 98

Tempers flared between the Celtics and Hawks, but Atlanta was able to get the best of Boston as they get the victory in the TD Garden.

Blakely: On surface Bogut makes sense for Celtics, but it comes down to chemistry

Blakely: On surface Bogut makes sense for Celtics, but it comes down to chemistry

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics got their butts kicked (again) on the boards Monday night by the Atlanta Hawks who defeated them 114-98.

The Celtics get their butts kicked most nights on the boards, and yet still find a way to win more often than not.

That’s why the possibility of adding Andrew Bogut who was bought out by Philadelphia is so intriguing.

Once he clears waivers on Wednesday, he’ll officially be a man in high demand with teams trying to show him love as if he was Kevin Durant or LeBron James.

But as much as the 31-year-old center on paper seems like a good addition to the Celtics roster because of his rebounding prowess and rim protection on defense, here’s what you have to keep in mind with Bogut or any other player Danny Ainge and the C's front-office brass decides to bring through that door.

Whatever team a new guy joins, he’ll look to play decent minutes and showcase his skills with unrestricted free agency around the corner this summer.

As far as Bogut is concerned, he's one of the more underrated members of Golden State's title squad in 2016.

Draymond Green's all-around game, Steph Curry’s 3-point bombs and Klay Thompson’s two-way talent were all key to the Warriors winning a title two years ago. But lost in their success among fans was Bogut’s defense which covered up for a lot of mistakes, miscues and blown assignments.

Whatever team Bogut signs with, ideally he would be looking to provide that same interior presence.

But here’s another issue.

Adding Bogut means waiving a player, most likely a young player that the Celtics will have essentially decided to give up on.

Since Bogut is a big, the logical target of being waived is Jordan Mickey.

The second-round pick from 2015 has shown improvement, but not nearly enough to garner steady minutes or even sporadic time on this roster.

Amir Johnson and Al Horford are the starters, with Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko rounding out their four-man big rotation so they're not going anywhere.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens typically plays those four bigs every night, so the idea of adding a fifth to the regular rotation doesn’t make sense.

Will one of those four be cool with not playing some nights or having their minutes severely carved up?

Would Bogut be cool with sometimes playing in games, or sometimes playing the role of waving a towel supporting his team from the bench?

And how does his presence affect chemistry which is a major deal for this team and its success this season.

Boston’s bigs in terms of rebounding, have not been good all season.

We can all agree on that.

And yet despite those struggles, they have the second-best record in the East (38-22) along with being a top-5 or top-6 team record-wise in the NBA.

They’re able to win because they have solid talent and Teflon-strong bonds to where they don't just play with each other, but for each other every night. 

We have seen stretches this season when the minutes have been cut or wiped out altogether for rotation players like Terry Rozier, Jonas Jerebko and Jaylen Brown.

And yet during the time when they are not playing as much, you never hear any public grumbling or private bickering among themselves or to the media.

There is a high level of accountability with Brad Stevens-coached teams that if you’re doing your job well, you’ll play. If not, your minutes might go to a teammate.

The best example of this came earlier this season when Gerald Green was essentially a practice player until Christmas Day when he came up big in Boston’s win over the New York Knicks.

Green saw more minutes going forward, but soon found himself struggling to get on the floor afterwards on some nights and the man whose minutes he took – Rozier – was back in the playing mix. 

During those times when Rozier wasn't playing, he said Green was a fixture in his ear, offering words of encouragement regardless of whether he was playing a lot or not at all. 

“Gerald’s always encouraging me, encouraging the young guys to just keep working, be patient and when your time comes, run with it,” Rozier recently told CSNNE.com. “He’s been a great vet for us young guys.”

And while Bogut wouldn’t come in looking to mess with the team’s chemistry, that doesn’t matter.

Anytime a new guy is added to the mix, it has the potential to be a really good pick-up or a potentially catastrophic equation of subtraction by addition.

In talking with a league executive who Bogut played for earlier in his career, he said Bogut would be a good addition to the Celtics roster from a basketball standpoint.

“But you never know about how they fit outside of that,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “As we’ve seen, sometimes it’s just as important that guys click off the court as it is that they can play together on it. I don’t think that would be an issue, but with new guys and not knowing how that locker room works and its dynamics, you just never really know how it’ll play out.

The executive added, “But if they can get him after the Philly buyout, do it. He can help them. His strength is their weakness; it makes a lot of sense for both sides honestly.”