Coming off easily their most impressive two game stretch of the year the Boston Celtics suffered a setback Monday afternoon when they learned that point guard Rajon Rondo will be suspended for tonights game with the New York Knicks for making contact with an official during Boston's 89-81 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday Night. Having finally gotten Avery Bradley back, after the defensive pest missed the first 30 games of the year recovering from shoulder surgery, the Celtics had just put together their two best games of defensive basketball this year, limiting the Hawks and Indiana Pacers to less than 82 points each. They are set to face their toughest test yet tonight – their first matchup with the Atlantic Division leading Knicks – and were hoping to carry momentum from the previous two games into the contest. Now they will be forced to do so without their star point guard.
Was Rondo Wrong?
This is Rondo's fourth suspension in under a year. He clearly is not getting the message that he has obligation to his teammates to be on the floor and that continually getting himself suspended hurts the team. However Celtics101 feels that the NBA treated the enigmatic guard a bit unfairly this time around. He was suspended last year for throwing a ball at an official and bumping another with his chest. This time he just sort of walked into him. It didn't even look from this vantage point like he did it on purpose. Rodney Mott clearly didn't think so either – he didn't eject Rondo from the game like Davis did last year. However the NBA elected to come down hard on Rondo and it seems a little harsh. The letter of the law states that players must not make any contact of any kind with officials, but it happens all the time. They put their arms around them. They tap them on the shoulder. Rafer Alston once kissed a ref on the top of the head. Paul Pierce once even punched one in the face (though that was clearly an accident). However Rondo has brought a lot of this on himself. He rapidly used up any free passes that the league might have been willing to give him and has built up a reputation as a bad boy, at least where officials are concerned.
How Does the D Fair Without Him
Before getting this news fans were feeling as good about the Celtics as they have all year. Bradley's return seems to have brought the Celtics' trademark defense back to Boston after a 30 game vacation, and a backcourt of he and Rondo has the potential to be the best defensive backcourt in the league. With Bradley pressuring the ball and Rondo poaching passing lanes the Celtics had, at least for two games, become an defensive menace. This had propelled them to back-to-back wins over the Hawks and Pacers, two of the hottest teams in the NBA. Now this momentum that they should have carried into the matchup with the Knicks has been checked. Rondo being out likely means Courtney Lee returning to the starting lineup and, while a backcourt of Bradley and Lee is still formidable from a defensive standpoint, it is not the same as Bradley and Rondo. However defense is team dependent and the Knicks, one of the best offensive teams in the league, still represent a test for the Celtics defense, with or without Rondo.
Can the Cs Respond
Again momentum has been hard to come by this year for the Celtics. They have about as much now as they have had all year. Losing Rondo is a blow, but Celtics101 had been waiting all season for Boston to respond to challenge. They did so when they rallied out of a 19 point hole on Saturday to beat the Hawks. Facing the division leading Knicks without their star point guard is another. The bottom line is that the Celtics need to start putting wins together regardless of who is out there. They still have the ability to play strong defense with or without Rondo, and the defense is key to their success. They are at a disadvantage, but this is an opportunity for a statement game.
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