The Boston Celtics are playing the best basketball they have played all season. Starting off the season a dismal 20-23 and amidst a six-game losing streak, the Celtics received news that All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo would miss the remainder of the season with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Since then, Boston won six straight games, including defining victories over the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Clippers and the recent beat down of the Los Angeles Lakers. Although Rondo is the most talented player on the Celtics, his absence has given the team the spark they needed all season, leading to more efficient offense and more inspired defense and ultimately resulting in more wins.
Rondo was the floor general for the Celtics, the player they ran all of their offense through. This led to Rondo racking up a league leading 11.1 assists per game. Because Rondo is a pass-first player, only averaging 13.7 points per game, he frequently gave up easy shots in order to distribute the ball to other players, often ones who took more difficult shots. Lately, Rondo seems to care more about racking up gaudy assist numbers, as opposed to taking the smart shot and helping the team. Doc Rivers’ current offense requires better ball movement, and running their offense through Rondo was not resulting in that.
The staple of the Celtics over the last five years has been their defense. They won the 2008 title behind Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett. Rondo, while known for his offense, has consistently been a defensive stud.
This season, however, Rondo has seen noticeable declines in his defensive efficiency. Rondo’s defensive rating, an estimate of points allowed over 100 possessions, is at 102 this season, the third highest in his seven-year career. His defense win shares, which are the estimated number of wins contributed by a player due to their defense, is at 2.0, by far a career worst.
Rondo has put the majority of his eggs into the offensive basket and is sacrificing team defense in the process. In the games Rondo played this season, Boston’s opponents averaged 96 points a game. In his absence, opponents average 93 points a game. By replacing Rondo with guards who are more committed to the team’s defensive schemes, the team is seeing a noticeable improvement in their defense.
It would be ludicrous to suggest that the Celtics are better off in the long run without Rondo. He is consistently one of the best point guards in the league and works hard for his team. It is possible, however, that in this lackluster season where the Celtics seemed to be going through the motions, that the loss of their star finally motivated them. It may be based on a small sample size, but the Boston Celtics are playing better without Rondo.