Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
In the first NBA game since 1969 to feature 13 former All-Stars, it was the most recent player to join that list whose star shone brightest.
In his fourth year in the league, Rajon Rondo emerged as an Eastern Conference All-Star, so what’s in store for the Celtics point guard’s fifth season — and beyond?
“He’s got a good chance of being a Hall of Fame-type player,” Jermaine O’Neal said after last night’s 88-80 opening-night victory against the Miami Heat.
High praise? Sure. But Jermaine isn’t the only O’Neal heaping praise upon Rondo after playing just one regular-season game alongside him.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Shaq said of playing with Rondo, who finished with 17 assists last night. “He’s the perfect point guard. He knows where all his guys are. He led us out there, and he didn’t let us panic on the floor. Great player.”
Since entering the league, Rondo’s point, assist and steal averages have risen each season, culminating in last year’s 13.7 points, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. His rebounding numbers had also risen each season until a slight dip in 2009-10 put him at 4.4 per.
Is it ridiculous to assume Rondo could average 15 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two-and-a-half steals per contest in 2010-11?
Those statistical averages would compare favorably with the fifth-season numbers of the four most recent point guard greats (all either HOFers or HOF locks) — Steve Nash (15.6 points, 7.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals), Jason Kidd (11.6, 9.0, 4.8, 2.4), Gary Payton (20.6, 7.1, 3.4, 2.5) and John Stockton (17.1, 13.6, 3.0, 3.2).
And Shaq agrees, especially after Rondo found him with a couple floating assists around the rim last night. “The last six or seven years I really haven’t had a point guard like that,” said Shaq, “but I’m just getting back to what I’m used to. I’m by the basket, and when he comes by the basket I just gotta be ready.”
If you’ll recall, just two years ago, Shaq played one-and-a-half seasons with Nash himself.
Obviously, the most glaring weakness in Rondo’s game is his shooting. Defenders point to the .500 field goal percentage in each of his last two seasons, but it’s his 3-point (24.4 percent in his career) and free throw shooting (63.0) that need improvement.
During the preseason, Rondo demonstrated a new-found knack to knock down the mid-range jumper, but he didn’t have that touch in the opener, finishing 2-of-9 from the field last night.
Nobody’s asking Rondo to have Nash’s 3-point (40.0 percent in his 5th season) and free-throw shooting (89.5 percent in Year 5) ability, but how about Payton’s (30.2 3-point FG and 71.6 FT in Y5)?
Kidd also started his career as a sub-.300 3-point and sub-.700 free-throw shooter. Since then, he made himself into a .425 3-point and .808 free-throw shooter last year in Dallas. All I’m saying is, there’s hope.
And if indeed Rondo emerges as a Hall of Fame-type player as J.O. alluded, that would mean the C’s current starting five would feature a full lineup of HOFers.
Not bad for a guy that joked in the video accompanying this blog that he might not still be in the NBA in 2012.
SHAQ’S CELTICS DEBUT
The Celtics got exactly what they hope for out of Shaq last night: nine points, seven rebounds and a block in 18 minutes. So, how did The Big Shamrock feel about his first night as a Celtic?
“I just wanted to come out and just play,” said Shaq. “I had a couple early-game jitters. I missed a couple chippies, but Rondo … gave it back to me. We’re all gonna get better, and I’m gonna get better. It’s gonna be a great year.”
Shaq talked to the media for about five minutes after the game. Here are a few highlights:
- On the opening-night hype: “We just wanted to come out and win our first game, and that’s what we did. We let y’all worry about all the hoopla and all that. We knew that we wanted to come play a solid game, and we knew if we did what we wanted to do then we could get a win. This game is over. We’ve got a game tomorrow, and we just want to be 2-0.”
- On Ray Allen’s clutch 3-point shot in the final minute: “Ray is one of the greatest players ever to play the game — a great shooter. Doc (Rivers) drew up a play. It’s a play we practice all the time. We had many options, and that was one of our options. Ray Allen just did what he does — shoot the ball and make it.”
- On Paul Pierce: “He’s a great player. I don’t think you guys give him enough media attention that all the other guys get, but he’s up there with the other two players over there (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade). He’s a great player, a great scorer, and his name should be mentioned more.”
- On the Boston crowd: “Excellent. Electrifying. Magnetic. … It was great. It’s a great town. People here are anxious to get No. 18. It’s going to be like that all year, and we want to remain a dominant team at home.”
- On starting 2-for-2 from the free-throw line: “I was leading the league? A thousand percent? That record got messed up pretty quick.”
REACTION FROM MIAMI
The fallout from the Miami media appears unanimous: Last night’s loss was the exception, not the rule. In fact, the Heat hype consensus is that they’re still the team to beat …
Greg Cote, Miami Herald columnist:
The gleaming Maserati, so gorgeous in the showroom, so perfect to look at, hit the road for the first time Tuesday night, and the engine hiccupped a little, and the brakes squealed some.
The ride is going to be fine. Needs some tinkering and tuning, that’s all.
If anything, Miami’s 88-80 loss to the Boston Celtics verified the Heat’s awesome potential more than cast the least bit of doubt on it.
See, the Heat is good enough to come this close being that bad.
Israel Gutierrez, Miami Herald columnist:
It’s reasonable to call this the most difficult regular-season test the Heat will experience all season.
And, yet, with less than a minute left, after playing as miserable a duration of basketball as this team might ever play all season, the Heat trailed by just three points and oh-so-close to ripping out the hearts of Celtics fans on opening night.
With all that in mind, it might be time to translate Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez‘s quote from several weeks ago into the language of basketball: There’s nothing wrong with going 81-1.
Dave Hyde, Florida Sun Sentinel columnist:
In their first quarter together, the Heat’s Dream Team scored fewer points (nine) than in any Heat quarter last year. Where have you gone, Quentin Richardson?
That’s why the Heat’s loss to Boston 88-80 actually was worse news for the rest of the NBA. Go ahead and laugh a little more at that one, if you want.
But let me go further: This game was the very worst news the rest of the league could have received. There’s really no other way to assemble what happened in this Heat opener in another context.
Similarly, after the game, LeBron James tweeted, “Rome wasn’t built in a day! Work in progress. On to the next one.” The funny thing is — as Rondo points out in the video accompanying this blog — this Celtics team literally built itself in Rome, during a trip to Italy during the 2007 preseason.
No, one game won’t mean much in the standings come April, but last night’s game was about more than just the one day. It was about preparation, unity, familiarity — Ubuntu.
After all, “The Decision” happened more than four months ago. What have the Heat been doing since July? Perhaps spending one too many days checking out the talents on South Beach.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)