The Celtics Live and Die by Rondo

The Miami Heat last night took the Eastern Conference’s most battle-tested playoff team and put them in a two-game hole from which it’ll be difficult to recover. Conventional wisdom says there’s no cause for concern until the home team loses a game, but the Boston Celtics have not done themselves any favors.

It’s looked like Boston has been unprepared for how physical the Heat have been. All season, Miami has been derided as a team of style over substance, of prima donnas over workhorses. So far, though, Miami’s role players have outmuscled and outhustled the Celtics.

Another key is the way that Miami has defended Boston’s Rajon Rondo. It gets almost comical at times: Rondo doesn’t see a whiff of defensive pressure until he brings the ball within 17 feet of the basket. It’s been marvelous to see the Celtics point guard blossom into an All-Star despite comfortably living without a mid- and long-range arsenal, but Boston feeds off its point guard, and with their Hall of Famers aging, Rondo needs to take a step up.

Rondo actually had a good game last night: He shot well, he had twelve assists, and controlled the pace of the game. But their screen-and-roll game is lackluster because Rondo’s defender can just run underneath every screen, the defense sags off and offers no help on Rondo’s movements, leading to contested shots for his teammates, and he’s incapable of completely dominating a game when he needs to.

The Celts can compensate for his deficiencies when they play inferior teams like the New York Knicks. But Boston will live and die with Rondo, and he hasn’t shown the ability to put the team on his back against elite opponents.

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