In October, basketball fans watched the Boston Celtics to see the Houdini-like passes coming from point guard Rajon Rondo, usually to a teammate who would fumble the ball out of bounds. He was then traded in December, so fans focused their attention on Jeff Green, the team’s new leader. He was then traded in January, and the Celtics’ fans resorted to, “At least we have Sully!” Jared Sullinger then went down for the season with an injury.
It was looking like a season with no hope, aside from this summer’s NBA draft lottery. The team was over stacked with guards and had no veterans playing valuable minutes. They even had Gerald Wallace and his $10 million salary glued to the bench. Where were the Celtics going as a franchise?
Enter, Isaiah Thomas.
As the trade deadline neared, Celtics’ President Danny Ainge pulled off a move that made fans in Boston wonder if this was a “tanking season” anymore. Adding to the list of young guards on the roster, Boston brought in Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns. A 5’9”, 26 year old ball handler who has the guts to take the big shots, but also the sense to make plays with teammates.
Since that trade, Thomas has come off the bench in an important role that the team was missing. This is exactly what Danny Ainge needed to give this fan-base; a reason to watch. Through the first seven games of this new line-up he has averaged 20.1 points per game and earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors this past Monday. He has given the team a boost of energy, while invigorating the fans. Guards Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are free to play first-team minutes, take big shots, and do what they do best, play defense on the best 1’s and 2’s in the NBA. The Boston Celtics are 4-3 with this new roster, with two of the losses coming to arguably the best teams in the league right now, Cleveland and Golden State. They are playing good defense and scoring plenty without a top level talent.
Without the stress of playing with Rondo, the team has played a more aggressive style of offense. Consider this, Rajon Rondo, the team’s then starting point guard, averaged less than 2 free-throw attempts per contest, while only making 33% on the season. The team’s current back up guard Isaiah Thomas is averaging 7 attempts per game and landing a team high 87.3%. When the guards are driving to the hoop, it opens up looks for the perimeter shooters and it causes opposing big men to pick up quick fouls.
Rondo was a pass-first point guard, almost to a fault. The consistent description of him around Boston was that he was “Selfishly unselfish.” It was expected as a defender to give him a little extra room to force him to shoot, but Rondo being Rondo, still found a way to throw the ball behind his back or through his legs to a teammate. His game was to pile as many assists in four quarters of basketball as possible. The points came if they were there, but assists were the priority. Rondo was a great player in his time in Boston, don’t get me wrong, but he might be just that, only another player. Not a leader, not a scorer, just a player.
When the Boston Celtics played the Cleveland Cavilers this week, fans tuned in expecting to see the Celtics pick up an important win against a former division rival on the road. The game was over faster than it would take to reread that sentence, as LeBron James was vintage, putting the game out of reach early. We should have expected that, right? No Rondo, no Green and no Sullinger. It is a skeleton crew of what the depth chart looked like in August, so why did fans expect anything less than a double-digit loss? It’s because the combined excitement behind new comers Thomas and Jae Crowder, with the new life breathed into Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley, have this team capable of winning on any night. Last Sunday they led the NBA’s best team, the Golden State Warriors, for 46 minutes, before loosing in the final seconds. In Boston, we expected them to close that game out and win the game. Where there wasn’t any hope before, now there are expectations. Fans believe this team should make the playoffs, and now anything short of at least an 8th seed will be a disappointment.
While the Celtics may or may not make the playoffs, it likely won’t be a long post-season. It is nice, however, to be scoreboard watching again in Boston. In what started to be another season of disappointment, highlighted by trades and injuries, has now filled out with expectations. Whether those are real or not, it’s fun to watch the Boston Celtics again.
Follow Pat Sullivan on Twitter: @_PatSullivan_
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