He spent last season finding his teammates at any cost, sometimes passing up wide open layups in favor of a potential assist. Yet when Rajon Rondo has been at his best this season, when he has had to shoulder a different kind of role, there’s considerably less Stockton to his craft, and a hint of Allen Iverson has been dropped into the equation.
Rondo shoots far less than Iverson, almost all humans do, and I pray he does not have Iverson’s aversion to practice. But there is a hint of The Answer in Rondo’s best performances this season, the way he willingly catapults himself into men twice his size, bounces off them like a pinball, falls violently to the parquet floor, his head hitting the basket stanchion multiple times per game, earning visits to the free throw line the hard way, the sacrificial way, the way that says he now knows how badly the Celtics need him to score. (ESPN)
“I just try to attack, be aggressive, get us easy baskets — easy baskets, if it’s for myself or if it’s for my teammates,” Rondo said. “Right now our offense is behind our defense, so getting easy looks is going to help.”
Except when Rondo darts into the land of giants, there’s little that has come easy for the Celtics this season. Ray Allen has shot the lights out and Paul Pierce has had moments when he scores in typical, methodical, Pierceian fashion, but offense too often seems like it’s a lesson in labor. Kevin Garnett can still throw darts at the rim from outside the paint, but his attempts closer to the hoop have gotten progressively meeker, leading to the moment near the end of last night’s game when he rose with little power and a shot he once would have dunked with force was instead knocked away. The bench can’t help the struggling starters in that regard, either, because — excepting Brandon Bass — they are built to cause havoc defensively and score as a benefit of their defensive play.
As a result, entirely too much pressure is building around Rondo and his right shoulder, his scoring shoulder now, and Doc Rivers is asking his point guard to morph into a more cutthroat scorer, at least until Boston’s other stars manage to shift out of neutral.
“I think this is [Rondo's] team right now, until everybody else gets it going,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We need him to be aggressive. We need him to be a scorer, and attack. That’s a change, but that’s what it is right now until everybody else gets it going, because they are not. Ray (Allen) to me is playing pretty well, but we’ve got to get Paul (Pierce) going, we’ve got to get Kevin (Garnett) more consistent offensively even though I thought he was pretty good today with the defensive load that he had to carry. But I want Rondo to be aggressive.”
“Rajon’s amazing, period,” Garnett said. “We talk about big things are coming, big things are here. Rajon’s keeping us alive every night and we just got to make sure we follow his lead and follow his effort and we’re going to turn this thing around.”
The Rondomorphosis hasn’t always been seamless, as Rondo has sometimes forgotten or neglected his scoring role, and his sense of aggression sometimes hisses out of him like air does out of a popped balloon. There are times when Rondo has looked sluggish or uninvolved, just like his teammates, and Boston’s offense becomes stagnant because everyone is running through wet sand and Rondo isn’t there on top of his jet ski to offer his teammates a ride.
But when Rondo is at his fiercest, when a touch of Iverson has been added to his delicious soup, when the rim is his target rather than his repellent, these Celtics can survive and even thrive despite his teammates’ struggles. This is new for Rondo, needing to direct the basketball into the hoop rather than into his teammates’ shooting pockets, but it’s necessary with this unit, and it’s necessary every night rather than just on certain occasions, at least until — and if — the rim opens wider for everyone else.
Asked whether Rondo is playing better basketball than anyone else on the team, Rivers sounded like a man who was surprised that was even in question.
“What do you think? I mean, honestly? What do you see? Yeah. Yeah, he is,” said Rivers. “Ray’s right there; Ray’s playing terrific, too. And Kevin, defensively, has been pretty good; Offensively, we’ve still got to get him going more. But Rondo’s just playing terrific. And we’ve got to allow him to be terrific. We shouldn’t get in his way. And that’s what we’re doing.”
But he needs to do it consistently, and he needs to do it in the fourth quarter. Rondo has become a wet towel, and the Celtics need to wring him for every last drop.