I have a love/hate relationship with talk radio. It makes for great background noise when you’re driving or working, but inevitably I find myself screaming at the dashboard of my car about some poor guy that is a “first time, long time” who just can’t seem to get his point across. I’m much more of a podcast guy. With a podcast, you control when you listen to it, there are usually no callers and you can fast forward out of whatever parts you don’t want to listen to.
But yesterday I found myself listening to Felger and Mazz, on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, ripping apart Rajon Rondo with the usual fury the emerges whenever Rondo doesn’t act like the rest of the Big Four (despite the fact that they are noticeably older than him). One of the two, I forget who, said that the team would be better off without Rondo going forward and that he was nowhere near the most indispensable player on the team. He finished up the rant by saying that Rondo can’t carry the Celtics and that the team can win without him.
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As I was slamming my head repeatedly against the steering wheel in frustration something finally clicked – I don’t have to listen to these idiots if I don’t want to. And as I sat in silence thinking about how down the stretch Rondo had put this team on his back and during the month of April averaged 10.6 pts, 14.2 ast and 5.1 reb’s per game – a question popped in to my mind: Out of the big four, who is the most valuable?
So I’m going to rank them from 4-1, but before that I would like you to join me in celebrating the fact that Ray Allen is going to practice today. Let’s go Celts.
4) Ray Allen – This is not a knock against Ray. It’s obvious how bad the offense struggles to score at times with him on the bench, and you know that there is at least one game a week that Ray Allen will go off and win by himself. So dealing with his loss has been tough. Still, if there is one guy out of the four that the Celtics could make a run without it is certainly Allen. His defense isn’t nearly what it used to be, and unless he is absolutely on fire that will become a liability in the fourth quarter. If this was a calves contest then I would have Ray slotted as the clear No 1, but, sadly, life isn’t all about your calves. All this being said – the C’s need Ray to come back and breathe some life in to this anemic offense. There is a reason the Celtics didn’t hit a three until halfway through Game 2 – it’s because #20 has been in street clothes – perfectly tailored street clothes. The one-two punch option the Celtics have at shooting guard gives them an advantage over all the teams in the East (if both are healthy) except for the Heat. Keep your fingers crossed that Allen’s practice goes well today.
3) Kevin Garnett - This is one that I struggled with, mainly because of who would replace Garnett if he were out. Would the Stiemer have to fill in full-time? It would have to be him, I guess. Ryan Hollins has trouble just getting all of his fouls in to a game and Sean Williams was breathing so heavy when I saw him play at the last regular season home game that I thought I was at that Obese people meeting in Family Guy. But – no matter who replaces him – KG is just running on fumes. Josh Smith has been absolutely abusing him not only on the glass, but on the defensive end. Garnett struggles to even get position against the smaller Smith. They should let Bass go down there to bang around and leave Garnett free to hit that top of the key shot he loves so much, but that’s just the thing – right now he can’t even hit that shot. What Garnett has been able to do for the Celtics this season has been nothing short of amazing – especially when you consider that many thought he was all done – but if the Celtics had a better option at center then Garnett would move back to his more natural PF spot in a heartbeat. Sadly, they’ve got a bunch of cast-offs backing up the 35-year-old KG. They say the bulb burns brightest before it blows its knee out and Garnett seemed to be hitting a stride about a month ago. In order to go deep in the playoffs the Celtics are going to need Garnett to mainline the fountain of youth that he was tapping in to. Maybe it was the layoff that has him a little rusty, considering that he’s put up his best scoring numbers during the 16 games in which he played on zero days rest this season.
2) Rajon Rondo – The Celtics may be 8-5 without Rondo this season, but there isn’t a sane person out there who will tell you that they are better without him. Rondo brings intangibles that you just can’t count on Avery Bradley – or anybody else on the roster – to provide. There really only two guys in the league with better court vision (Steve Nash, Chris Paul) in the entire NBA, and Rondo makes this old group of slow guys look respectable against the teams that like to run. Rondo offsets transition teams by running the ball right back at them, and even if he’s the only one getting down the court, teams still have to adjust to Rondo and then deal with the four trailers that are either filling the lanes or getting to their sweet spots. To suggest that Rondo should be more mature is valid; to say the Celtics would be better off without him is Herm Edwards crazy. Just look at the offensive flow during the last game. The Celtics seemed to just stand around and stare at each other until Paul Pierce made something happen. It felt like Pierce’s first couple years when he had to do everything while Antoine Walker just stood outside and hoisted errant threes. Game three will bring a determined Rajon Rondo, who will be playing under the bright lights that accompany coming off of a suspension in the playoffs. Luckily for the Celtics, Rondo tends to turn his game up when the spotlight is on him. Mark my words: By the end of the series, everyone will be back on Rajon Rondo’s side.
1) Paul Pierce – Was there really a question about this? He’s the captain, the truth, the face of the franchise and one of the all-time Celtics greats. In the ways the Rajon Rondo is limited offensively (consistent shooting, getting to the line and making FT’s, closing games out) Pierce excels. And you won’t see the Captain get a technical in the fourth quarter because it just doesn’t happen. As much as Rondo is the motor of this team, Paul Pierce is the rudder. Nobody knows more than Pierce what a second title would mean to his legacy. The task ahead won’t be easy for him – he has to guard the other team’s best player (usually) and average close to 20 a game if the Celtics are going to get to where they want to go. But unlike Allen, Pierce can score if his shot isn’t on. Garnett can’t do much against guys that are younger and quicker than him, but Pierce simply lulls players like that to sleep with his slippery style of play. Rondo may never be able to offensively close games out for the Celtics, but right now he doesn’t have to, because that’s Pierce’s job. And he does it very well. Paul Pierce is hands down the most important player on the roster.
We may not know what the future holds for this Celtics group when next season rolls in, but right now, in this moment, with this group, the Boston Celtics (if healthy) have the pieces to beat anybody. Derrick Rose’s injury helps, but the road out of the East will not be easy. The only way they can do it is if all four of these players can contribute the way we’ve become accustomed to.
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