(Reggie Miller: “Oh no he didn’t. No he didn’t!”)
Kevin Garnett often discusses the importance of rhythm in basketball. He does not take days off during the postseason because he does not want his flow impeded by any amount of rest time, and he has been surprised that Ray Allen could return after so much time off and immediately knock down jumpers like he never missed a game.
Garnett did not specifically discuss Rajon Rondo’s rhythm last night, but the young leader of the Boston Celtics clearly spent Game 4 dancing to the musical notes sounding through his brain.
As Al Horford noted, “Rondo’s the kind of guy that controls the game out there.”
Control Game 4, Rondo did, like he sat on its back and relayed orders with a whip. He assisted on five of Boston’s first six baskets, finished the first quarter with two more dimes, pushed the Celtics in transition and made sure his teammates received easy looks. Doc Rivers called his team’s effort “just a nice way of playing,” and it was Rondo — as it almost always is — who established Boston’s tempo and flow.
Atlanta coach Larry Drew said he came into the series thinking Atlanta could dictate the pace and thrive in transition. Why he ever thought his team could control those areas escapes me. Rondo has long been able to determine a contest’s pulse and react accordingly, to lead his teammates on the fast break when opportunities arise and to walk into halfcourt sets when the situation dictates it. Yes, Jeff Teague is a blur and some of his teammates are younger, more athletic than the Celtics. But it does not take mere speed to hold a game by its reins. Andre Miller probably couldn’t crack 5.0 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but he understands the game’s ebbs and flows and knows how to control them. Rondo is much quicker than Miller, quicker than most guards, but it’s his intelligence and knowledge that really set him apart.
“He’s incredible,” Keyon Dooling said. “We get to see him every day, but it’s still impressive. The way he sees the game is totally different. He really is a detail-oriented person, and guys just love to play with him. You can tell: When he’s out, our guys don’t get their normal shots.”
More so than during his Game 3 triple-double, Rondo graffiti’d his initials all over Game 4. He finished with 16 assists compared to one turnover, adding 20 points on a night when his jump shot fell more often than it normally does. He helped Avery Bradley get Boston off to a fast start, aided Paul Pierce’s magnificent night and made everyone else’s job easier. A highlight came during the third quarter, when Rondo went “extra-Rondo” with a fake-around-the-back-pass and marvelously delicious finish. We used to curse Rondo’s inconsistency, but it has now been a month and 27 days since he last registered single-digit assists. He is in sync with his teammates and seemingly aware of all the details, even the most minute ones, surrounding him.
“I just wanted to come out with the right mindset and play the right way, get my teammates involved. [I] made a couple passes [where] I got them easy looks and got them in a rhythm,” Rondo said after Game 4. It sounds so easy.
The landscape is opening for the Celtics to make a long playoff run. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah both went down with injuries. The Sixers lead the Bulls 3 games to 1. The Celtics are one game away from eliminating the Hawks, their defense remains a constant, and on nights like last night when their offense matches that output, Boston looks almost unbeatable.
They might one day in the near future (knock on wood, dodge bolt of lightning) get their chance at revenge on the Miami Heat. If they do, wrote Adrian Wojnarowski in a fantastic column after Game 4, Rondo will be the man who must lead the charge.
That’s Rondo, and that’s part of one of the most beautiful minds in basketball. The bigger the games, the bigger the performances out of him. That never changes. He rolls out of bed this time of year and right into a triple-double. The Heat will be in those conference finals, and they won’t be tested unless the Celtics are awaiting them, unless Rondo’s still standing in these playoffs.
LeBron James is the best player in these Eastern Conference playoffs, but Rondo controls a basketball game like no one but else but James. All these threats to the Heat in the East have crumbled, but Rondo remains. And, rest assured, he’ll dare the Heat to take him out again. Rondo’s relentless this way. Doc Rivers wondered: What would’ve happened? Well, the Celtics want to find out again. They have one, best chance, and it hasn’t changed for a year. Three hundred sixty-five days later, Rajon Rondo’s still coming for the Miami Heat.
There are better, more complete players in the league than Rajon Rondo. But when Magic Hat No. 9 operates at full capacity as he did in Game 4, the Celtics transform into something beautiful, mesmerizing and quite difficult to defeat.