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The Revitilization of Rajon Rondo

11.20.08 at 10:10 pm ET

It was early in the game and Rajon Rondo found himself driving to the basket with a clear lane to the hoop. His options: Finish the move and take it strong, or pass it out for a jump shot. As he has several times this year Rondo elected to exercise Option Two–pass it out to the perimeter. The decision elicited audible gasps from the Garden crowd, disappointment really, and a missed jump shot. That’s not what getting Rondo’d is all about.

But the most picked over, scrutinized and dissected player on the Celtics roster does not lack for confidence, and the next time Rondo found himself in the same position (clear path, decision time), Rondo elected for Option One: Take it strong to the goal.

Again and again Thursday night against the Pistons, Rondo took it strong to the basket en route to an 18-point, eight-assist performance that stands as his best game of the young season in a 98-80 win over Detroit.

It’s funny, but the specter of Chauncey Billups still hangs over Rondo’s head every time the Celtics meet up with Detroit even though Mr. Big Shot is now in Denver. Billups, and his strong post-up game was supposed to be Kryptonite to Rondo last year, but the young guard got the better of an admittedly injured Billups in the playoffs last season and should have put those questions to rest then and there.

Allen Iverson is the new lead guard in Detroit and that matchup–speed vs. speed–is an altogether different issue. Let it be said that Rondo got the better of this one too, holding AI to 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting and helping contain the fast-breaking Pistons to just 10 points on the break.

There are two questions that put Rondo on the defensive. The first is to suggest that he has a matchup problem with Billups. “(Iverson and Billups) are different players,” Rondo said. “But they’re both great scorers. It doesn’t take one player to stop those guys, it takes a team.”

The other is the suggestion that he is uncertain of his shot. “I play unselfishly,” he said. “I turned down a couple of shots again today. That’s just how I play. I get my teammates involved.” Since beating Detroit on Nov. 9, Rondo has produced the following shooting lines: 2-for-8, 2-for-8, 1-for-8, 0-for-1, which naturally provoked the questions all over again.

But the old Rondo, the freewheeling Rondo, reappeared Tuesday night against the Knicks, and he was back again last night. “The matchup with Iverson is just quickness on quickness,” Paul Pierce said. “You don’t expect him to outscore Iverson. It takes a lot of pressure off everyone else.”

When the Celtics offense is working, when it’s really clicking, the ball whips around the perimeter from player to player. Isolations are not needed. Post-up games go in reserve. Often that quick passing begins when someone, usually Rondo, beats his man and forces the defense to commit. If the Celtics biggest problem last season was over-passing, their biggest issue this year has been a lack of it.

As great as Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are, Rondo is the one who usually initiates the action. Make no mistake, the Celtics can win games when they grind-it-out and simply wear other teams down (see Toronto and Atlanta, as examples), but an 18-point blowout against a serious conference rival requires the young point guard to be operating at his fullest capacity.

In the third quarter, when the Celtics opened up a 20+-point lead, it was Rondo who did the damage, scoring nine points and handing out four assists. His play allowed wide-open spaces to develop on the floor and easy looks for Garnett who made all four of his shots in one of his most efficient games (15 points in 25 minutes) of the season.

Last week, Pierce said that the Celtics had yet to play a full game, from start to finish. They did that last night, and it started with Rajon Rondo.


Garnett was almost convincing when he said Friday night’s game in Minnesota is “honestly, just another game.” It’s not, of course. The Celtics are scheduled to arrive in ‘Sota at about 4 a.m., which is probably not a big deal for the nocturnal Garnett. But since he was injured during last season’s trip, tonight’s game figures to be quiet the emotional head trip for KG.

“And then the Kevin Garnett factor,” Doc Rivers mused. “Who knows where that’s going to go. I wish I could tell you. I can’t.” Told that Garnett had gone the just-another-game route, Rivers laughed. “Yeah. Right.”

Read More: Allen Iverson, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Garnett
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