The quirkiness. The brilliance. The vision. The ability to compensate for one profound flaw by excelling in so many other areas. The scene was Rajon Rondo, or at least playoff Rajon Rondo, in a nutshell. Two offensive rebounds, two passes that could have led to assists, one that did, saving the possession twice, making his teammates happy twice more, and a flare that made it all so captivating.
When Rondo’s on his game, when he’s whipping assists over the back of his head, slinging them with both hands, carving a knife through the opposing defense, and controlling both ends of the court like the game’s on a string only Rondo can touch, the Celtics take on the look of a champion. He can make the game so easy for his teammates, so difficult on his opponent, and no team has an answer. Certainly not the Heat, who likely watched last night’s Celtics-Knicks game with the wide-eyed look of a man standing in the on-deck circle against Nolan Ryan.
Rondo’s a hodgepodge of basketball’s best and worst traits, an intelligent and daring maestro with Stockton’s vision, an artist’s creativity, a drunken center’s jump shot, a frustrating ability to play down to the occasion and yet a habit of achieving new heights when the Celtics require it. He’s a jigsaw puzzle, a dizzying combination of pieces that only fit because they’re together.
Because of his broken jumper, his game needed to compensate. The long arms; the speed of a man running across fire; the flitting bounces from one loose ball to the next; the vision that makes most players look like Stevie Wonder in comparison; the stubborn confidence of a player who believes he’s the world’s best guard; the intelligence of a man who sees in advance—without the entire package of rare qualities that compose the most unique point guard in the NBA, Rondo wouldn’t succeed. Not to the extent he does, at least. Only because all those traits came together can Rondo do what he does, which is to excel despite a flaw that should have been fatal, which is to establish himself as Boston’s most important player even while playing alongside three certain Hall of Famers.
“”When you have a point guard as talented as Rondo, he makes it look easy,” said Jeff Green last night. The rim looked like an ocean to Ray Allen and Paul Pierce last night, but Rondo simplifies everything for his running mates. He finds them when they’re open. He hits them in their shooting pocket. He turns a difficult shot into an easy one by drawing the defense. He attacks, he probes, he exposes an opponent’s weaknesses, and he dictates the game with beautiful chaos.
He doesn’t always play that way, of course. During the regular season, Rondo snores through certain games like a man whose girlfriend forced him to watch Pride & Prejudice. He can play down to competition, and he can frustrate Boston fans for weeks at a time. After the Kendrick Perkins trade, maybe because of the trade, Rondo went into a funk. He stopped playing each game with passion. He stopped winning games for the Celtics and started to hold them back. He was visibly bothered by something, we’ll probably never know what. Yet when the playoffs arrive, Rondo becomes a different man, a better man, one who forgets boredom and begins to paint pictures of domination.
If John Stockton was Gustave Courbet, an artist who specialized in realism, Rondo is Picasso, sweeping his brush maniacally while creating a different type of masterpiece. He’s become the Celtics’ leader, their most crucial piece to a title, their one biggest strength against the rest of the league’s elite. They go as he go, and they will follow him to Miami, and if they beat Miami it will likely be because the Heat, like the Knicks, have no answer for the quirky point guard whose flaws only make his achievements more impressive.