Rondo makes bad situation worse
Jackie MacMullan [ARCHIVE]
ESPNBoston.com
May 2, 2012
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The Celtics were seconds away from possibly salvaging an atrocious Game 1 playoff performance against Atlanta that highlighted so many of their usual deficiencies -- rebounding, lack of depth, poor transition defense, stagnant offensive sets, reverting to "hero" ball to force points onto the board -- when Rajon Rondo decided to really ratchet up his team's degree of difficulty.

Boston's Young Turk got himself ejected from the game with 41 seconds to go and -- as a result of the one-game suspension levied against him on Monday for bumping referee Marc Davis -- has left his team woefully shorthanded for Game 2 on Tuesday in Atlanta.

I really can't decide which was more disappointing: Rondo becoming unglued over a questionable call on a messy scrum for a loose ball, or his insistence after the fact he didn't bump Davis on purpose.

Right. And Metta World Peace didn't see James Harden standing there when he leveled him with his elbow.

Look, maybe Davis should have whistled for a jump ball before he called Brandon Bass for a foul. And yes, maybe Davis was a tad quick in slapping a T on Rondo after he approached him with a few choice words.

Too bad. Maintain your composure. That's what great players -- and great teams -- do.

Referees don't like to be shown up by players. You can be sure each and every one of them (including Marc Davis) took note of the video showing Rondo throwing a ball at official Sean Wright back in February. When you do that, your leeway shrinks. Let's agree Rondo's leeway with NBA officials has now officially evaporated.

Naturally, his veteran teammates are irked with the latest developments regarding their point guard, but neither Paul Pierce nor Kevin Garnett is in a position to say much. They, too, have been ejected from playoff games, as recently as 2011 (Pierce) and 2010 (Garnett).

Lucky for me this incident happened when it did. I was just about to publish a warm and fuzzy story on how the team chemistry had been so nicely recalibrated this season. The Celtics' locker room has been solid. Players have melded so nicely, Pierce told me the roster had "an '08 feel to it."

Not long after Miami eliminated Boston in the playoffs last spring, Celtics boss Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers huddled and agreed their roster needed to undergo some changes.

Both the players and the front office had grown weary of Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Shaquille O'Neal carping at one another. Baby also infuriated his bosses with his blatant disregard for the weight clause in his contract. And, although nearly everyone was fond of Delonte West and appreciated his full-throttle effort on the court, they went to bed with one eye open, fretting over what late-night phone call regarding their mercurial guard would (again) disrupt their nucleus.

Thus, revamping their team chemistry became a priority. They swapped Davis for Bass, a quiet, serious, professional young forward. They brought in Mickael Pietrus, a pied piper of positive thinking and boundless energy (think M.L. Carr with 3-point range).

Yet the most important addition in the locker room appeared to have been point guard Keyon Dooling. His results on the floor have been mixed, but his influence on Rondo as a trusted ally was immeasurable.

It has been well documented that Rondo struggles to coexist, at times, with his more celebrated teammates. He occasionally chafed when the Big Three overshadowed his accomplishments, and brooded when best pal Kendrick Perkins was dealt to Oklahoma City. Rondo needed a new confidant and Dooling, Rondo told me just before Game 1, had become that guy.

"Keyon is one of the best leaders I've ever been around," Rondo declared. "He tells me the truth. If I mess up, he lets me know. He's also very positive, very uplifting.

"Sometimes you play with guys who don't always want to see you do well. When they tell you something, you wonder where they're coming from, what their reasons are.

"But with Keyon, I never worry about that. He's going to give it to me straight, because he cares."

When Rondo drew a two-game suspension for throwing the ball at Wright in February, his veteran teammates went to him demanding a public apology. Feeling cornered, Rondo balked -- and that's when Dooling stepped in.

"I just told him, 'You hurt your family when you do stuff like [throwing the ball at a ref]. The [money lost due to suspension] comes out of your pocket. That's taking money away from the people you love,'" Dooling said.

"He listened because I was coming from a pure place. I want him to grow as a man.

"I set out to get to know him. I didn't listen to any of the other guys and their opinions of Rajon.

"I love the guy. I've made a friend for a lifetime."

Too bad your new friend didn't listen, huh?

Allen not the only one hurting

Rondo's suspension is hardly a death sentence for the Celtics, but it leaves a paper-thin roster even more vulnerable. Avery Bradley has been a revelation, a wonderful story -- as long as you don't ask him to play full time at the point. Now, because of Rondo's temper, the Celtics will have to ask him to do just that. You can be sure Atlanta's young backcourt will be pressuring him full court, which is why Pierce is already brushing off his point forward skills.

Before the playoffs started, Rivers confessed: "My only concern is we have no margin for error. Everyone has to play. Ray [Allen] has to play. [Greg] Stiemsma has to play. We don't have a cushion. In past years, if Big Baby didn't play well, Leon Powe could step in. If Sam Cassell couldn't get it done, Eddie House played. We don't have that luxury this year."

So now they will likely go into Game 2 with their best pure shooter in a snappy suit-and-tie ensemble and the NBA assist leader sulking next to him.

Boston's abysmal first quarter has led to the inevitable second-guessing on whether Rivers should have "rested" his key players down the stretch.

Let's get real here. Rivers didn't "rest" Allen. There's a realistic chance he may have played his last game in a Celtics uniform. For those of you who haven't experienced bone spurs, they feel like someone is stabbing you with a knife. Repeatedly. With vicious, pointed strokes. Oh, and the knife has been resting in a white hot flame.

Doc didn't "rest" Garnett, either. KG is hurt. He hasn't been 100 percent, truthfully, since he underwent knee surgery in May of 2009.

"He's never been the same," Doc conceded. "The last two years have been very difficult for him."

Garnett has come to accept the intermittent flaring of knee pain that has become part of his everyday NBA life. Yet it's the recurring pain in his hip flexors (a result of his slim frame and unusual gait) that cripples...
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