Rajon Rondo’s temper has caused problems for him and the Celtics in the past, but when he lost his composure in Boston’s playoff opener in Atlanta, he destroyed any chance his team had of winning the game and depending on how long he is suspended for, the whole series. With the Celts down by four late in the fourth quarter, Brandon Bass was whistled for a loose ball foul on Josh Smith. Rondo immediately yelled in the official’s face, earning him a technical foul. That was a big enough mistake considering how close the game was with just 41 seconds left. But then he made the situation even worse by continuing to yell at the official and ended up stepping toward him and bumping him in the back with his chest puffed out. At that point the official rightfully ejected him with a second technical.
The Hawks looked like they were going to pull out the Game 1 victory anyway, but Rondo might have just cost his team the series. Although Rondo claimed he didn’t intentionally bump into the ref, it’s pretty clear from the highlight that he lost control in his state of anger. The refs should be completely and absolutely untouchable. It’s understandable when players get upset with each other in a physical game, but when a player makes a move on an official, even if it’s a small bump like this, it opens up a scary realm of possibility for future players who lose control. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard for guys so competitive to calm down and think rationally, and after seeing what Rondo did, it’s hard to say that the idea hasn’t been planted that refs aren’t completely off-limits anymore. That’s not to say players will gun for officials now, but Rondo’s bump was a scary moment because it was an eye-opener as to what could happen if a player loses control and takes his anger out on the official. I think the bump will only earn him a one-game suspension and I think that punishment is adequate. It certainly doesn’t deserve punishment similar to Ron Artest after he brutally elbowed James Harden in the head. But whatever the punishment, Boston has now lost their floor leader and facilitator for a critical Game 2 in Atlanta. The Celtics are capable of winning without Rondo, but after they came out so sluggish yesterday, they could use all the help they can get.
It’s unfortunate Rondo can’t control his temper, because he had the best game of anyone on the Celtics, keeping them within striking distance despite a horrendous first half. Rondo finished with 20 points, 11 assists and 4 rebounds before his ejection. Kevin Garnett recovered from a poor first half and ended up with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Paul Pierce had an awful shooting night (5-for-19) and finished with just 12 points, and Brandon Bass wasn’t much better, going 3-for-7 for 8 points. To make matters worse, the Celtics got a total of four points from their bench, Ray Allen sat out and Avery Bradley contributed to Boston’s poor shooting night with a 4-for-12 performance.
And yet the Celtics were still somehow in the game at the end. From the Hawks’ perspective, this has to be somewhat troublesome going forward. Josh Smith played lights out, tacking on 22 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block. His performance covered for Joe Johnson, who only had 11 points on the night. Fortunately for Atlanta, Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich were able to score semi-effectively, tallying a combined 27 points. But unless that kind of contribution from their role players (and their bench, who outscored Boston’s bench 17-4), the Hawks could be in trouble in Boston when Rondo is back on the court and the shots start falling. Unfortunately for the Celts, the Hawks superior record gives them home-court advantage despite Boston having the higher seed. And now that Rondo will likely serve a one or two game suspension, a critical Game 2 in Atlanta almost becomes a must-win for the Celtics. No one can take anything away from what Rondo and the Celtics have accomplished this season after everyone said they were washed up and that they should trade Rondo. But after a costly blowup like this, fans have got to wonder about how much trust they can place in their gifted point guard when he can’t control his temper long enough to stay on the court.