Sans Rondo, Rivers Focuses on Ball Handling

WALTHAM, Mass. – The most natural question to ask now that Rajon Rondo is out for the season is, “What happens to the Boston Celtics’ offense?”

If you’re looking for an answer to that question, don’t approach Doc Rivers. He’s pondering a different issue that he believes is much more pressing for his team.

Rivers, a former NBA point guard, knows all about the importance of the position. The casual NBA fan thinks that the only responsibility of the point guard is to initiate the offense and dish out the most assists. Rivers, however, sees far past that.

Pierce

With Rajon Rondo out of the lineup, Paul Pierce will take on much more of the ball handling for the Celtics.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

He and his players seem to be confident that they’ll be able to operate just fine in the half court offense without Rondo. Someone will be able to initiate the offense – albeit a very different offense – and the assists will come from somewhere. Getting into that half court offense is the real issue.

Rondo’s absence leaves a crater in one specific area of Boston’s team: ball handling. Rondo made things easy on Boston by taking the ball up the court on nearly every possession while he was on the floor for an average of 37.4 minutes per game. Now he’s going to be on the court for zero minutes per game, meaning the C’s need to fill that ball-handling void.

Prior to Rondo’s injury, no one – not even Rivers – had to question how the Celtics would transition from defense into their offense. Rondo was the answer. He made it happen very time.

“Before it didn’t matter. You gave that no thought. Rondo was bringing the ball up,” said Rivers. “Now we have to really be focused on where their pressure is coming from.”

Rivers isn’t concerned with scoring points. He’s trying to figure out how his team is going to avoid being Avery Bradley’d every single night.

As Rivers said on Tuesday, “We have a lot of guards, we just don’t have a lot of point guards.” Opponents understand that, and that’s why they’re undoubtedly going to give the Celtics a taste of their own medicine by extending full court pressure.

“Someone will pressure us and someone else will have to bring the ball up,” said Rivers. “Those are the things we have to work on, more getting the ball up the floor in a quick manner.”

The coach isn’t going to look in any particular direction for a solution to this problem. He won’t use a “point guard by committee” approach. Instead, he’ll just try to beat whatever system that the other team is throwing at the Celtics.

“I think it’s going to go game-to-game in that sense,” Rivers said while speaking about the ball-handling duties. “That’s the adjustment, if anything. If [Leandro Barbosa] has a guy that’s pressuring him, I don’t want him bringing the ball up. If we’re playing a team that has two guards that can pressure both guys, I don’t want either one of them bringing the ball up.”

Who brings the ball up the court if neither Boston’s guards can? Think Paul Pierce. Think Jeff Green. Those guys did it on Sunday against the Heat, and they’ll be called upon to do it again relatively often throughout the remainder of the season.

One way or another, the Celtics will almost always have one position at which the opposing player won’t bring full-court pressure. It will be a rotation between the two guards and the small forward.

If you believe this is a farce and that it can’t work, think again. Rivers has seen first-hand that this approach can be successful in the NBA.

“Think back of the Bulls back with Michael (Jordan). They had three guys,” Rivers explained. “As a player, if we pressured B.J. Armstrong, Michael brought it up. If we pressured Michael, Scottie (Pippen) brought it up.”

Rivers also coached a team in Orlando that successfully employed this strategy.

“We had the year with Mike Miller, Grant Hill and Darrell Armstrong, and whoever brought it up brought it up,” Rivers said. “It didn’t hurt us at all. We scored a ton of points.”

As you can see, this isn’t an obstacle the Celtics cannot overcome. It’s been done before, and it’s been done well. The only issue for Boston is that this isn’t something the Celtics are accustomed to, as Rivers willingly acknowledged.

“It’s not that hard to do,” he said. “It’s just different for us.”

The Celtics had better get used to different, because a lot will change without the presence of their All-Star point guard. Many people are rightfully wondering who is going to step up on offense to replace Rondo’s substantial numbers. Rivers, on the other hand, is thinking on a much more micro level.

“There literally are no different roles,” the coach said of his expectations. “I don’t want a guy now to think he’s Rondo, or anything like that. Everybody’s going to play their same role. The only different thing is someone else may bring the ball up and then pass it. That’s the only difference.

“That’s it.”