Rajon Rondo lulled D.J. Augustin to sleep with a slow dribble, and you could sense a puppeteer-puppet relationship brewing – Augustin was at Rondo’s mercy, on a string.
Glen Davis set a screen to Rondo’s right, but the All-Star point guard rejected the screen in favor of a crispy crossover in the other direction. He bounced by Augustin, who tried valiantly but had no choice against Boston’s creative leader. Rondo drove left, with Augustin on his hip – behind Rondo only by a few inches, but for all intents and purposes out of the play. A big man helped out to stop the penetration, and Rondo pulled out an old act that has yet to grow tiresome. He hooked a fake pass behind his back, and the big man bit the wrong way, and by the time Rondo flung an underhanded pass to Shaquille O’Neal, the C’s center was wide open for an easy lay-in.
On this night, Rondo was in control. He was in control from the opening tip, and he would maintain control the entire game. He led the Celtics to victory on a night the bench didn’t exactly show up, on a night when Kevin Garnett remained absent from the court, on a night when the “Marquis Daniels-Glen Davis” frontcourt was born. On nights like these, you wonder whether Rondo’s the league’s best point guard. Hell, he even hit a clutch fourth-quarter three-pointer.
On nights like these, you also wonder what Shaq ate. Because he was fantastic, in a way he hasn’t been in months. He was active, and soared (okay, jumped) for alley-oops, and took advantage of post opportunities, and even grabbed a handful of rebounds. On one play, Rondo lost D.J. Augustin in the corner, and Shaq was the closest Celtic. Normally, Augustin would shoot a wide open three-pointer while Shaq looked on curiously from ten feet away. But not tonight. Not after Shaq ate Wheaties, or drank five-hour energy, or did whatever he did to get himself ready for tonight’s game. Shaq hounded Augustin (by “hounded,” I mean ran out to Augustin and tried his hardest to stay in front of him) and forced him into a pass.
Of course, there were downsides to Shaq’s night. He threw a couple bad turnovers, and played altogether way too many minutes for a 38-year old geyser. But when you see The Big Diesel play his best game in a month or two, you tend to forget his minor inadequacies.
Now I move on to zero. Zero, you ask? That’s a significant number today, and not just because it’s the amount of common sense I have, nor because it’s now the height of my vertical leap. The Celtics’ bench scored zero points in the entire first half of tonight’s game. I realize the C’s bench wasn’t ever supposed to become so thin; I realize this. But the bench combined for 34 first-half minutes, and scored zero points. In other words, the C’s bench scored as many first-half points as I did. Or my dogs did. Or my grandparents did. Or the fat guy with dragon breath sitting behind me at the game did.
Memo to Perk, D-West and Jermaine O’Neal: the Celtics could use your returns. Memo to Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels, Von Wafer, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody: You guys missed a pretty good first half.
When the bench finally decided to join the starting five at the TD Garden, the third quarter had begun and the Celtics were on their way to a nice win.
And yes, I’ve gotten all this way without mentioning Paul Pierce’s efficiency or Ray Allen’s deadly shooting once (or even Kwame Brown). On this night, they were overshadowed.