Watch how he darts into the paint. How his teammates suddenly find themselves open for easy looks. How his team’s offense occasionally transforms from the league’s 25th-most efficient unit into a beautiful wave of uncontested jump shots and daring dashes to the hoop.
Check how Rajon Rondo sometimes takes the Boston Celtics and lifts them to a level they couldn’t achieve without him. Note that he is doing this more consistently now, that he has reached double-figure assists in each of his past 13 contests, a longer streak than anybody since Steve Nash in 2005. Wonder if he can keep this up, this balancing act of keeping his teammates happy every night while only calling his own number when the Celtics need it.
View the Miami Heat and see that they have no answer for Rondo, at least when he is competing with the fervor and control he displayed on Sunday. Look around the league and try to find a team that can neutralize Rondo when he plays like he did against the Heat. Ask Rondo himself.
“I think when we have at least four or five guys healthy, we follow the game plan,” Rondo said after dominating Miami to the tune of his fifth triple-double this season (16 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds). “But when I’m healthy, I think we can probably beat anybody.”
Rondo is the Celtic who scored 10 points in the first eight minutes against Miami on Sunday, responding after Doc Rivers told him to call his own number more frequently. He is the Celtic who finds Avery Bradley when Bradley cuts back door, who feeds Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass in the pick-and-pop, who finds Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in rhythm for transition threes. He is the Celtic whose lack of a jump shot can prove fatal on the wrong night, who tends to raise his play to reach the level of the stakes, who might finally be learning to deal with inconsistency issues that have plagued the first five and a half seasons of his career.
Brandon Bass, assembled in front of his locker after the game with several camera crews focused his way, said that Rondo likes the bright lights and the cameras and the world’s attention. Asked whether he got the feeling that Rondo really does enjoy nationally televised games more, Bass got a mischievous look in his eye.
“I don’t know for sure, but I think he told me that,” Bass said.
But regardless of what he told Bass, and regardless of what Sunday’s performance lends as evidence that Rondo does in fact get more hyped for bigger games, Rondo seems to be learning to deal with the boredom of Wednesday night affairs against the Utah Jazz or Monday night contests with the Golden St. Warriors. He has hit double-digit assists in each game since March 11, and seems to be realizing what this year’s team needs from him. A troublesome lack of synergy existed earlier in the season between Rondo and Pierce, but with Rondo now primarily settled into the role of distributor, the two are surging together as the Celtics make a late push.
“Point guard, man. Point guard. That’s what he do,” said Bass. “That’s what he told me a couple days ago — that’s what he gets paid to do, be a point guard, man. He’s been playing well. I’m happy I’m on this side.”
Rondo is flawed and stubborn and Boston’s best hope of defeating the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and when he gets on a roll he can look like the world’s best basketball player, capable of making Lebron James a secondary force on the same court.
Boston’s championship pedigree makes the Celtics an undesirable opponent once the playoffs arrive and Rondo is the team’s wild card, the one Celtic who most sets his team apart from other fringe Eastern Conference competitors and could single-handedly turn a playoff series in Boston’s favor.
The Celtics are trending up, as Doc Rivers said Sunday, and their magical point guard deserves a lot of the credit. He raised his play in a big game again Sunday but hasn’t needed nationally-televised games to shine during the past month, seemingly figuring out what it takes to lift his teammates on a nightly basis.
That heightened consistency is more than useful, especially during this crazy lockout season. But what makes the Celtics most dangerous come the postseason is still Rondo’s ability to blossom underneath the brightest lights.