The League is getting Rondo-ed

By Stephen Alford
Updated: December 4, 2008

BOSTON — The 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics will no doubt once again rely on the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen if they expect to repeat the feat they accomplished last year.

But with the NBA’s best record (20-2 after Friday’s win vs. Portland), the Celtics are on pace to win 70 games this year, and are poised to again represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

With the improved play of big man Kendrick Perkins and sixth man Tony Allen, the Cs have showed no signs of missing last year’s key to Banner 17, James Posey.

But the catalyst to this year’s quest is the third-year veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the best young point guards in the League.

Rondo not only recorded his first triple-double (16 points, 13 rebounds, and a career-high 17 assists) in a 114-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night , but he damn near had a triple-double against the Blazers (16 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists), as he led Boston to its 11th consecutive victory.

“Rondo’s playing excellent,” praised Kevin Garnett after Friday night’s win. He’s creating shots for everybody. He’s on the board. He’s active. It makes our jobs a little easier…I think for the most part Rondo is playing unbelievable basketball, and we’re sort of following the lead.”

Terrific is the way Celtics coach Doc Rivers described his floor leader. “He’s just been terrific, setting the table for everybody.”

You’ll be hard pressed to find a player whose hands and first step are quicker, who gets up and down the court faster, and who plays with more control than Rajon. “You know it’s funny,” remarked Doc Rivers after Friday’s game. “He was walking the ball up the floor (in the first few minutes of the first quarter) and speed wasn’t a factor and he wasn’t a factor. And when he started playing with the speed, it changed the game for us.”

He had it in fifth gear early in Wednesday’s game, and it made an immediate impact.

“We let Rondo get out to a great start,” said Indiana’s Marquis Daniels after Wednesday’s loss to Boston. “He found guys early. He was getting himself involved, getting rebounds and points. I think he had a triple-double in the first half, or close to it.”

Close Marquis. He actually captured the triple-double with 10:32 still to play in the third frame.

“Once he gets inside that paint he’s very effective and very dangerous,” added Indiana point guard TJ Ford, who held Rondo to a 1-for-4 shooting night on the first of November when Boston suffered a 95-79 embarrassment in Indiana.

However, the tables turned in Wednesday’s game as Rondo was obviously more assertive on the offensive end, and got to the basket at will against the Indiana defense. “He’s under control. He’s proved to everybody he can lead a team, so I think you’ve got to give him his credit. He’s a helluva player,” said Ford.

If you pay attention to a Celtics game, you will see how eager players are to put the ball in Rondo’s hands, trusting that he will find someone an open shot. After scoring a season-high 31 points against Indiana (11-for-18 from the field, 6-for-9 from the deep end), Ray Allen couldn’t say enough about his backcourt buddy.

“It seems that Rondo and I go hand in hand. When he’s as aggressive as he is, it seems that I get so many easier looks.”

“I’m not guessing what he’s doing. I know where he’s going with the ball on most of the plays, and I know where I need to be. Pretty much, I get a lot of open looks. Even when Paul’s in there, I tell him when you see Rondo drive to the whole, you go right to the baseline, get the outlet and get a shot.”

“He’s making leaps and strides each and every year,” told the Truth after the win against Indiana. “You thought last year he was good, he’s just getting better. He’s learning the game. He’s learning his spots. He’s learning what kind of potential he has and it’s just fun to watch him grow.”

CelticsNation is certainly enjoying watching Rondo mature before their collective eyes, and the League is starting to take notice of the point guard out of University of Kentucky, who is proving to be a steal of the 2006 draft when he was selected with the 21st pick by the Phoenix Suns, who traded Rondo and Brian Grant to the Celts for a future pick (Rudy Fernandez) and guard swingman Jiri Welsch (And the Suns are still looking for a point guard to back up Steve Nash).

Teams can no longer leave Rajon unguarded, as his confidence in his shot seems to be growing with each game. In another game that didn’t live up to the hype, he scored 16 points and dished out 12 assists in a 107-88 spanking over the Orlando Magic on Monday.

Following the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said there’s a case for Rondo to make the all-star team. “I don’t make cases for guys, because if everyone doesn’t see it, then it’s a shame”, Rivers said.

“I mean, he’s the point guard of a team that’s doing very well. Defensively when he plays well, we play well, offensively when he plays well we’re really good. And that’s all I can say. I don’t know what else you need to say.”

Rondo stepped up his offensive game against Golden State and Detroit when he scored a season-high 22 points in a 119-111 shootout victory over the Warriors on November 26, and had 18 points against Allen Iverson and the Pistons when Boston beat Detroit 98-80 at home on November 20.

After shooting a doughnut (0-for-1) in a 102-97 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee on November 15th, the start of Boston’s winning streak, Rondo has shot 62.5% from the field over the last 10 games, and is averaging only two turnovers in 31 minutes over the same time span.

“He really changed the game,” said Pierce after a win against the Warriors. “With his defense, his deflections, his getting to the basket, finding guys, he really changed the game and we fed off of that and we were able to go on a run, and get back in game and finally take the lead in the fourth.”

Pierce later mentioned that he wouldn’t be surprised if Rondo made the All-Star team.

Kevin Garnett gave Rondo the highest praise after the Indiana game:

“He’s so active. He’s getting everybody easy shots. Making the game look simple and making it simple for everybody out there. He’s getting rebounds. He’s just active”

“When we’re good defensively it’s because Rondo sets the tone by picking the ball up very early. He was amazing. It seemed like there was three Rondos out there tonight. I looked up and he passed the ball to [Paul] and it came off the rim and he was rebounding it.”

“Then all of a sudden I got back on defense and he had beat me back. Then Granger went to drive and he was there on the strip and we got loose and threw it up for a layup and he got the layup. I sort of had to turn around and was like how many…what is this boy…he was everywhere tonight.”

I sense a nickname coming soon.