The Big Four? C’mon, Do Your Homework
It’s nothing new. Rajon Rondo’s been the Celtics best player for a while now.
by Colin Powers
Public perceptions are strange phenomena, often just over-simplifications or misrepresentations that might make things easier to process even if it means distorting the substance of the matter along the way. At the very origin of their existence, they were probably founded on something resembling truths, otherwise there never would have been the impetus to create the paradigm in the first place. But as the days and years go by, their validity gets weathered away and is no longer based in reality, simply relying on inertia, the strength of their preceding reputation, and the great difficulty in challenging any public perception no matter how ludicrous. They maintain their significance whether they deserve it or not.
I write this because of the continued proliferation across all media platforms of the truism ‘that wow, that Rajon Rondo kid is pretty good. I guess you’ve gotta call it the Big Four now.’ This is written as if it is some kind of revelation, a discovery of Da Vinci proportions in the wake of Rondo’s absurd triple double. The young fella is a nice little ball-player, almost eating at the same table as the trinity of potential hall-of-famers KG, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen? Really? That’s the angle?
I mean, no shit. Have people watched the team this season (or even last season)? He’s been the best player on the Celtics since training camp tipped, perhaps even ascending to that role during his transcendent 2009 post-season. There are still moments when he relies on the elder statesmen to finish the game, when he loses some confidence and turns the show over to PP or Jesus to finish things off in the 4th because he’s still not completely confident sticking that uncontested 15 footer defenders dangle in front of him. Nevertheless, Rondo is the catalyst, creator, and driving force of the team in such an abundantly obvious way that it is almost dumbfounding how his terrific play is being met with an underlying sense of surprise.
Garnett, Pierce and Allen are all at the point where they can occasionally conjure up some magic from their younger days, but can by no means carry the burden of lifting up the whole franchise, even if distributing its weight between the three of them. It is Rondo who has filled this void all season, finding people open looks when they are no longer quite as capable of creating for themselves, breaking down the defense and making plays in whatever way the squad needs. He does not hide from the ball but seeks it out, directs his teammates and the action of the game, and has risen to become the most essential player on the team by far. He is an absolute maestro with almost unparalleled control of spacing, tempo, energy, and movement, all the more incredible when you consider that every defender in the League sinks off of him into the paint (although you could argue this actually works against the defense by not pressuring him and allowing him to see the floor unimpeded).
None of this is shocking or new. Believe me when I write that I don’t think I am making any major addition to western civilization at large or the basketball community in particular in stating what is so fundamentally obvious. Nonetheless, I feel the need to voice it in order to combat the resilience of the tired Big 3 + Rondo storyline. The other guys are still very good players, but only one Celtic deserves consideration for the All-NBA teams, and that’s Rajon.
The quietest story in the Playoffs this year may be Orlando’s understated destruction of all opposition. Eyes are understandably trained towards the simmering showdown between Cleveland and Boston and all the drama inherently attached to LeBron and any sports story involving the Bean. Nonetheless, down below the Mason-Dixon line, Orlando has swallowed all challengers with ruthless efficiency, leaving a lame-duck coach (Woodson) and shaky max-money player (JJ) in their wake. I’ve done my best all season to discount and discredit their successes for a variety of reasons, but it might be time to recognize that the historical lens I’ve evaluated them through (VC is soft, Howard mentally weak, you live by the 3 you die by the 3, SVG’s too panicky) is now blinding me from what’s happening right in front of my eyes; it is very possible they have redefined their reality.
They have 11 legit NBA players who all bring a set of legit and complementary NBA skills. They have two late game play-makers, including a suddenly assertive and comfortable-in-his-own-skin Vince Carter. He sure as hell ain’t, and never was MJ’s heir, but this team doesn’t ask him to be, and he has thrived recently as a result. They have two athletic, physical defensive wings (Pietrus and Barnes), plenty of inside muscle (Gortat, Howard, Bass), and distance shooters who almost create an embarrassment of riches. The Playoffs are all about peaking at the right time, about building momentum, confidence, and continuity; if Orlando can avoid the pitfalls of complacency, they appear in very good shape to return to the Finals. Just compare that roster to the Cavs top to bottom (the Celtics fare a little better) and you’ll realize what an immense effort it will take from LeBron to carry the day, especially after this exhausting war of attrition against the Celts.
Out West, not much can be added to the unfathomable exploits of Steve Nash aka Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini. That’s the kind of performance guaranteed to make the cut for the slow motion, piano music NBA commercials of the future. I fear they are running into a buzz-saw in the L.A. Lakers, who like the Magic have found their stride. Utah has clearly kept the series a good deal closer than the 3-0 margin indicates, and the Show are still vulnerable to their narcissistic tendencies and lapses in focus. Still, those bigs pose a very difficult match-up for the Suns, who will need to play perfect ball to advance. No one would have bet they would sweep the Spurs, though, so you never can know until the games are played out.
That’s Playoff basketball.