Rivers has spent the last three years trying to instill in Rajon Rondo  the kind of traits Rivers used to gain a reputation as one of the best defensive guards in the NBA in the 1980s.
Right now, Rivers knows the reputation Rondo has around the league. Go at Rondo and make him try to stop you, since defense hasn’t always come naturally for the guard. On Tuesday, following practice, Rivers drew a analogy between Rondo and another pro athlete.
“I think teams try to go at Rondo because of his size and because they want to try and get him to gamble,” Rivers said. “It’s like trying to make Brett Favre  try and throw across his body. It’s who you are, and teams know that and try to take advantage of that.”
[Click here  to hear Doc Rivers talk about how defense led to Rondo’s development into a possible All-Star]
Like Favre on Sunday with an ill-advised cross-body pass that was picked, Rondo’s season came to a bitter end in Game 7 last spring against the Orlando Magic , a game in which some critics felt Rondo hurt the team by constantly gambling for steals instead of playing solid defense on Orlando’s dangerous backcourt.
But with that said, Rivers said he’s noticed significant improvement this season in Rondo’s defense
“Rondo’s been off-the-charts better this year,” the coach said. “I don’t think he gambles much at all, as much as he did. He still has to cut down on it and then the timely gambles is what you can’t have. When the game is in the balance, you have to fight that urge. It’s almost the same when we talk about guys taking hero shots or taking hero shots instead of making the simple next pass. Same thing on defense. Don’t make the hero play, just play defense.
“Rajon has been good defensively. He’s had some games where guys have played well against him. That doesn’t necessarily mean he was bad defensively. That means the guy was pretty good offensively. He still reaches and we want to correct that. He still plays on the side of that and we want to correct that.”
Rondo turned in arguably his best all-around game of the season on Monday during a 95-89 win over the Clippers. He scored 16, dished out 12 assists, collected four steals, grabbed seven rebounds and turned the ball over just three times in 42 minutes.
Not only that, his counterpart, Baron Davis  was held to 5-of-13 shooting from the floor.
“The more he can keep the ball square, the better it is for him,” Rivers said. “But the better it is for our whole defense. I don’t think people understand what playing on the side of a guy does. Your guy may not score, but somebody else is scoring because the big has to stay with your guy longer and they get wide-open shots. And it’s usually from you playing on the side of him.
“You want him to get better at that. He has the ability to affect a game defensively, with his ball pressure. He has an unbelievable feel for the ball, so he absolutely has the ability.”
So if the All-Star call comes on Thursday and Rondo is selected as a backup to Dwayne Wade and Allen Iverson  on the Eastern Conference squad, Rivers believes that will just be icing on the cake for a player who is already serious about taking the next step in his career.
“I think the one part Rondo does have, I think he does have a great defensive urgency about him,” Rivers said. “To me, with young players that’s the first step because most young guys are in no hurry to play defense. They want you probably to shoot it as quickly as possibly so they can get it back. Rondo understands that and I think he understands that because of the guys who are on the floor because when you have Kevin [Garnett ] and [Kendrick Perkins ] barking at you about keeping you man in front of you, you tend to listen.”