Irish Coffee: Celtics’ Rajon Rondo > Knicks’ Jeremy Lin
|03.05.12 at 9:01 am ET|
As crazy — sorry, Linsane — as the worldwide Jeremy Lin phenomenon has become in the NBA, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo made a profound statement against the Harvard graduate: How do you like them apples?
Rondo amassed 20 assists, 18 points and 17 rebounds for the first time since Wilt Chamberlain recorded a double triple-double in 1968, leading the C’s to a 115-111 overtime win over Lin’s Knicks on national television.
“I saved the [box score], just as a witness that I was here, and I actually got to see this up front and center,” said Kevin Garnett. “The thing about Lin is I think everybody who’s at the point guard position is going to be excited to play the kid, and Rondo was nothing short of that today. I could see it. I could tell. I’ve been around him long enough to know when he’s motivated and when he’s more than motivated, and tonight was one of those nights.”
It takes a lot to impress Garnett, but Rondo’s performance was one that’s never been seen before in KG’s 16-plus NBA seasons. It was also more than a subtle reminder where Lin ranks in the point guard pantheon.
“He’s just unconventional, but like I said before the game, he’s one of the best in the league, and so you saw a stat line tonight — there aren’t many guards, maybe no guard, who can put up something like that,” said Lin. “We didn’t do a good job of containing him, and he obviously controlled the tempo of the game.”
Meanwhile, Rondo also rose to the occasion defensively, limiting Lin to 14 points (6 through the first three quarters) on 6-of-16 shooting to go along with six turnovers to his five assists.
‘The thing about Jeremy is that he’s gonna make some mistakes,” said Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He’s got a learning curve. There’s no way you can throw him in there the first time he ever does it and expect it to be perfect, but he finds a way to be very positive in the end of games. He hit the big 3 and a couple of other shots. It was good, and he’s gonna be good. It’s just a matter of going through some learning experiences.’
Consider Sunday afternoon a pop quiz. In 14 games during February, Lin averaged 20.9 points, 8.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game, elevating himself from a no-name to a global brand. Yet, in two recent matchups against the Eastern Conference playoff-bound Heat and Celtics, Lin’s been held to 26 percent shooting and eight assists against 14 turnovers.
“It’s what we expected,” said Rondo. “A lot of pick and rolls. He got into foul trouble, and that’s where my attentions were early. Just try to go at him, be aggressive and get him out of the game.”
Lin picked up three first-half fouls, limiting him to just 13 minutes before halftime. In the second half, the Celtics continued to clog the paint, using Rondo and Garnett to sandwich Lin’s bread and butter (the pick and roll) to perfection, so not until the fourth quarter’s final minutes did the Knicks floor general make an impact of any note.
“We just wanted to put pressure on him,” said C’s coach Doc Rivers. “Take him off his right hand, which I thought we allowed him to get to his right late in the game. That’s one point of contention late, but that’s it. They’re a whole team. Jeremy Lin is terrific. Makes tough shots. But Carmelo [Anthony] is pretty good. And Amar’e [Stoudemire] is pretty good. And J.R. Smith. So, we were probably more focused on that, if you want to be honest.’
“When you become a good player, man, the scouting report is out,” added Stoudemire. “That’s something that Carmelo and I face our whole career, so it’s something that he’s going to have to get used to. We’re going to help him. We’re going to get him open on screens. Teams are going to try to apply pressure and get out on screens, try to trap him, create havoc, but having such a talented team around him, he’s going to be Ok.”
In other words, Lin has a long way to go before he reaches Rondo’s status — he of three All-Star Game selections, two NBA Finals appearances and one championship ring. Lin has started just 13 games in his career, and sure he’s led the Knicks to a 9-4 record (3-4 in their last 7), but the league has adjusted, and now he must respond.
“I’m definitely a target, but I think that’s fine, because we have such a well-rounded team,” said Lin, whose Knicks face the defending champion Mavericks on Tuesday. “But it’s just going to take time. It’s my whatever 11th, 12th game — I don’t really know. It’s early on, so I’m learning a lot and absorbing information right now.”
Perhaps he can learn from Rondo, who has had his share of bumps along the way in his five-plus NBA seasons. Heck, even amid a three-game stretch in which he’s produced his league-leading third and fourth triple-doubles, trade rumors are swirling. It’s how he has responded to those obstacles that’s elevated him to the league’s elite.
“You could see it on his face, just like when he was playing Deron Williams,” said Garnett. “If you want to be anything in this league, you have to play against the opposition at your position. The trade talks really, really is a good motivating factor for him. If you know Rondo, he’s a ‘I’ll show you’ type of person, and he’s very, very motivated, and that’s what you love about him. This game had enough juice on it for him to come out and play the way he played. I’m happy for him.”
Remember, before Linsanity erupted, when it came time to organize a charity All-Star Game at Harvard University this past November, it was Rondo who invited Lin to play with the NBA’s best. Not the other way around.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)
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