|01.19.09 at 11:52 pm ET|
On Draft Night 2006, the Phoenix Suns selected Rajon Rondo with the 21st pick and traded him to the Boston Celtics. It was a move to stay under the salary cap, avoid the luxury tax, and free up money for future acquisitions. Three years later, nearly $75 million in payroll could not stop him.
‘The challenge is what everybody’s challenge is with him ‘ keeping him in front,’ said Suns head coach Terry Porter following the Celtics 104-87 victory. ‘He does a great job of penetrating, getting to the paint, and causing havoc that way.’
This season Rondo is set to earn $1.3 million, a bargain by NBA standards and nearly one-tenth of Steve Nash’s salary. On Monday night he proved he was worth every penny the Suns did not pay for him. Rondo posted 23 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, six more than Amar’e Stoudemire (RECAP HERE).
‘There were a lot of fast break opportunities for me,’ he said after the game. ‘They missed shots, that was key for us all night long. We got stops on defense and that allowed me to push it up on the break and get easy looks at the basket.’
Rondo scored more than half of his points in the paint against the Suns $35 million front court of Shaquille O’Neal and Stoudemire. Whereas other teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have collapsed on Rondo, the Suns let him have his way at the hoop.
‘He’s improving all the time. He’s emerging as one of the elite guards in the league,’ Nash said. ‘I think regardless of whether he’s shooting the ball well and he needs to improve there, his game has improved. I think it’s made the shooting not as big a question. He’s become a better and better passer. He’s a great athlete who does a lot of things for his team on the floor. He’s emerging as one of the elite guards in the league.’
Even though Rondo says he does not think about being traded, his performance only accentuated the Suns’ Draft Night loss. Over the years they have also drafted and dealt point guards Nate Robinson and Sergio Rodriguez, as well as forward Luol Deng. After missing out on Brandon Rush in the 2008 Draft, the Suns are left with little depth at the one-spot and a point guard who turns 35 next month.
‘Well, we’ve had a few draft night trades to stay under the salary cap that were difficult in the big picture,’ said Nash. ‘Our franchise is built on a business model that tries to stay under the cap as much as we can. It’s just how it’s been.’
It’s games like this that could have the Suns wondering what might have been. But for Rondo, it’s just another game.
‘I just try to get better every game,’ he said. ‘No one particular night I can try to say my confidence has been boosted, but I just try to stay consistent as possible because there’s a lot of ups and downs in the NBA. I had a good night tonight, shooting the ball but it’s all about the win.’
Three years ago it was all about the money for the Suns. On Monday night it was all about the win for Rondo.
|01.19.09 at 11:31 pm ET|
Before last night’s game with Phoenix, Doc Rivers was asked what Kevin Garnett could do when he’s matched up with Shaquille O’Neal. “What he has to to do,” Rivers said. “Is keep his body between Shaq and the basket. He’s got to use his quickness, and he’s got to use his length.”
Very technical. Very precise. Very accurate. But then Doc doesn’t have to feel the force of 325 (listed) pounds coming crashing down on him.
So, Mr. Garnett: What’s it like?
“It’s like holding up a house,” Garnett said. “Y’all go home, knock out the foundation in your house, and just hold up the wall. And when it’s about to fall on you, that’s what it’s like holding up Shaq. Have someone in your house come over, you take a break, get some Gatorade and come back and hold it up. Every now and then you let it fall and then you pick it back up. That’s what it’s like guarding Big Diesel.”
Shaq scored 16 points last night and you can make the argument that he was just about the only good thing the Suns had going for them (click here for a recap). Amare Stoudemire was held without a field goal and scored just three points. Jason Richardson was scoreless in a first half that saw the Celtics open up a 64-34 lead. But it was the job the Celtics did on O’Neal to start the game that set the tone for the carnage that followed.
Without Kendrick Perkins and his big body, the Celtics were forced to open the game with Garnett on O’Neal. This is not the way they like to play. The Celtics prefer to put Garnett on the smaller, more agile frontline player, especially if it’s someone who allows Garnett to roam the middle of the paint like a free safety. But desperate times and all that.
In the first quarter, Garnett used his superior footwork to keep Shaq away from the basket. He used his quickness to intercept a pass and force a turnover. And he used his length to reach back and get a block from the weakside. At times the foundation crumbled, and the wall came crashing down, but Garnett dusted himself off, got his Gatorade, and came back for more.
When Garnett was done, Big Baby Davis took his turn.
“With them two it’s like a boulder moving a boulder,” Garnett said. “You’re not going to stop Shaq. Shaq’s too big and too clever. He’s been in this game a long time and you don’t just score 25,000 points by bullying your way to the basket.”
Baby met Shaq way back when he was in high school and the Diesel influenced him during his time at LSU, teaching him what he could expect in the NBA, both on and off the floor. The two are obviously close as Shaq called Baby his son before the game.
“I’m a little bit of a house too,” Davis said. “I’m a little house. He’s a big house. He still can do whatever he wants on the court. Whatever he wants.”
But Shaq couldn’t do everything. “It was a good old fashioned (butt) whooping and there’s nothing more to say,” is how O’Neal put it. “Period. That’s it.”
Don’t tell anyone, but that alley-oop that Garnett and Rajon Rondo have been throwing down on people? It’s good. Real good. So good, in fact that the Celtics aren’t talking about it.
“We aren’t speaking about the alley-oop pass tonight,” Garnett said. “That’s top secret.”
|01.19.09 at 10:00 pm ET|
There is a palpable sense of joy across the NBA about the inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow. Travel plans are being changed, Tivo’s are being set and Ray Allen is heading to Washington to take in the momentous occasion live and in person.
Perhaps no one in the NBA has a more interesting perspective than Phoenix’s Grant Hill whose mother was roommates with one Hilary Clinton at Wellesley. But Hill was an Obama supporter from way back, donating money to his campaign as early as 2007. Like a lot of players, Hill would love to be in the District tomorrow, but his schedule won’t allow it. I caught up with Hill before the Celtics game with the Suns and asked him about the day.
“It’s kind of hard to make sense of it,” Hill said. “Home for us is Florida, which is a fairly conservative state, and Obama carried Florida. Phoenix is (John) McCain country and people there are excited too. What he’s done, and how he’s done it has the country excited. There’s a feeling that there are some smart people in place. There’s a feeling of pride in the country and the whole political process. Hopefully that will inspire people to go out and work for change because the hard part starts now.”
There has been much made about Obama’s love of basketball. The analogy is an easy one to make–teamwork, sacrifice, a sense of being a part of something greater than the individual self–and it appeals to what people see in Obama and their hopes for his administration. It’s so easy to make that it’s already become a bit of a cliche, but I asked Hill about it anyway.
“I think he understands the importance of teamwork,” Hill said. “He picked smart people for his cabinet and he relies on them. They’ll challenge him. It certainly reflects the value of sport and athletics.”
With a grin, Hill added, “I hope he’ll be a better president than a basketball player, though.”
|01.19.09 at 9:49 pm ET|
At the start of the fourth … Celtics 89, Suns 58
- Rajon Rondo starts the fourth quarter with 23 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. Now is a good time to remember the Suns drafted Rondo with the 21st pick in the 2006 NBA Draft and traded him to Boston. Celtics fans everywhere are thanking the Suns for that generous move.
- Second unit plus Scal is in: Pruitt, House, Davis, Powe, Scalabrine. For the Suns it’s Barbosa, Lopez, Amundson, Barnes, and Tucker.
- There’s a “We want Walker” chant starting near Section 20. The Celtics are up 31 with 11 minutes to go … a perfect situation for the rookie to get some PT.
- Gino is warming up backstage.
- Patrick O’Bryant wiped out Goran Dragic at the top of the key. Dragic is 6’4.
- Final score … Celtics 104, Suns 87
|01.19.09 at 9:27 pm ET|
And we’re back for the second half. Two questions: Can the Celtics play any better? Could the Suns play worse? I suspect we’ll find out in the first 5 or 6 minutes of the half if Phoenix can make it at least interesting. Let’s find out…
THIRD QUARTER WRAP: Give the Suns credit for not packing it in, but this one is ovah. I said at the end of the first quarter that this was the best the Celtics have played all year, and it hasn’t let up. We are now entering extended garbage time, so I hope Bill Walker is ready for some run.
If that’s not reason enough to watch, Jess will be sure to keep you entertained.
Third Quarter Observations
– I made a joke about Scal outplaying Amare Stoudemire in the first quarter, and lo and behold, Scal is still getting the better of the matchup. Stoudemire went hard to the basket on the first possession and got to the line. One would think he would be a little embarrassed after getting to one point in the first half.
– Rondo just got Shaq’d. R squared is dusting Steve Nash on the offensive end, as you might expect, but it didn’t take much for Shaq to get a big beefy paw on that one.
– I know it’s 26-point spread but now it’s getting fun. Nash has that look in his eye, like when Dallas refused to guard him in the playoffs a few years ago and he went beserk.
– Double-figure alert: Every one of the starters has at least 10 points, except for Scal, who does have the slam a da night.
– I was focusing so much on Amare I hadn’t even noticed that Jason Richardson hadn’t scored until that drive.
– Just so we’re all clear: Rajon Rondo is putting on an absolute show tonight and it doesn’t hurt that the opponent is Nash and the game is on TNT. Clinic.
– Turnovers tonight. Celtics 7, Phoenix 18. Couldn’t have gotten odds on those numbers.
– If Scal had dunked on Amare, I’m not sure the building would still be left standing. Kendrick Perkins says that he’s doing good, by the way. As much as he wanted to play against Shaq tonight, the Celtics need him more against Dwight Howard on Thursday.
– You can clearly see that the Suns are dog tired. Every outside shot is hitting the front rim, but still, this is just a horrific beatdown tonight. I’m sure the rest of the NBA is taking note.
|01.19.09 at 8:34 pm ET|
The second quarter gets under way with highlight’s from Lucky the Leprechaun’s guest appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. He got to the basket easier than the Phoenix Suns, who scored just 15 points in the first 12 minutes.
- Notable number: the Suns committed nine turnovers in the first quarter. They averaged 16 per game this season.
- At the first timeout the Celtics have pushed the lead up to 40-19. The Suns are up to 11 TOs.
- Before the game Big Baby dropped by the Suns locker room to visit Shaq. The big man was on his cell phone on the trainer’s table so Davis decided not to interrupt. All of his consideration was forgotten on the court when he drained a J over Shaq. Big Fella has the size, but Big Baby has the jumper. (Ok so it’s a work in progress … he airballed the next attempt.)
- Tonight’s Heroes Among Us Award was presented to 1968 Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith and Charlene Carlos, the wife of 1968 Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos. Smith and Carlos raised black-gloved fists during their medal ceremony as a peaceful protest, which serves as an iconic moment in the civil rights movement.
- If you thought Scal and Shaq was a mismatch, imagine what happened after Louis Amundson tried to stop KG. Let’s just say Shaq had a few words for Amundson at the next whistle.
- Turnover count: 14 for the Suns.
- The Suns surpassed the Celtics first quarter total with a minute to go in the half.
- At the end of the first half … Celtics 64, Suns 34
|01.19.09 at 8:01 pm ET|
We’re off to a late start on account of a fine press buffet and the presence of weei grand master Rob Bradford in line for said buffet. So we’ll dispense with the usual pleasantries and get right to it. It’s the Suns. It’s the Celtics. It’s Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo. It’s Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Garnett. It’s Shaquille O’Neal and Brian Scalabrine?
Let’s get it on…
FIRST QUARTER WRAP: The Celtics couldn’t have asked for more in the first 12 minutes. Well maybe if Scal had made that 3 at the end of the quarter, but then, Scal threw down a two-handed jam.
Fun stat of the quarter: The Celtics shot 24 times and made 14 of them. The Suns took 14 shots. That, friends, is domination.
First quarter observations
– You have to be in a coma (or a Dukie) to not be excited about this one tonight. Phoenix isn’t the best team in the West by a long shot, and you can make the argument that the Celtics aren’t the best team in the East anymore either, but the matchups are phenomenal. I’m giddy.
– KG opens up Shaq. As you all know the Celtics hate putting Garnett on a BIG big man. It will be interesting to see how long they stick with it.
– The Celtics say they are emphasizing fast starts. Ya think?
– Kind of jarring to go from Paul PIerce talking about Martin Luther King Day to Quiet Riot doing Come on Fell the Noize. Maybe a little Marvin Gaye would have been the play?
– The Celtics are pressing fullcourt, which makes sense when you consider that the Suns played yesterday and are not quite the running 7 Seconds or Less juggernaut of past years. See what a few days off can do for a team?
– Scal with the two-handed flush!
– For the record, with 5 minutes 11 seconds gone by Brian Scalabrine is outplaying Amare Stoudemire. This will probably not last.
– Baby’s coming in to wrestle with Shaq for a while. Garnett did everything he was supposed to do on the Big Fella. He stayed between him and the basket, he used his length to block a shot and he used his quickness to get a steal.
– Nash just got Rondo’d.
– Naturally that made me think of this:
– You know things are going well when you fumble three passes and still get a 3-on-1 layup. Best quarter of the season so far for the Celtics.
– The Suns are getting outworked, out-hustled and outplayed. Badly.