He caught a pass about three feet from the hoop and could have swooped to the rim and finished with a layup of his own. It would have been simple. It would have been effective. It probably would have even been smart. But it might not have been so unselfish, and so Rajon Rondo turned his back to the unguarded hoop and scooped a pass to the trailing Andre Iguodala. Iggy finished the and-one finger roll, pumped his fist, let out a primal roar and slapped five with an excited Rondo, after finding out exactly what the Celtics have been learning for the past four years: Playing with Rajon Rondo is a whole lot of fun.
After a sloppy performance in Team USA’s first public scrimmage, Rondo got his act together and looked a lot more like himself in take two. His stat line didn’t look gaudy (2 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds in 20 minutes), but when Rondo was in the game it always felt like he was in control. He ran the pick and roll to perfection a few times, hitting Tyson Chandler for an easy alley oop on one occasion that Chandler ended up missing. He hit open teammates the second they worked free. He played the same selfless basketball we’ve grown accustomed to, and though he didn’t do much scoring and his assist total wasn’t great because his teammates missed a few good looks, Rondo played with the confidence, poise and basketball IQ that should make him an impact player when Team USA takes its talents to Turkey.
More than once, announcer Fran Fraschilla audibly gasped when Rondo made a pass. There was one no-look bounce pass coming off the pick and roll, one that was finished with authority by an unnamed big man (who will remain unnamed because I have no idea who it was). There was a quick, one-touch pass to Kevin Durant at the top of the key that seemed to be out of Rondo’s hands before he even secured the rebound. There was the aforementioned dime to Iguodala, the one that brought such emotion out of Iggy and I’m sure, because of its unselfishness, endeared Rondo to everyone on the team. And don’t forget the final play of the game, probably the only walk-off alley oop you and I will ever see (the game, just a scrimmage, was ended with a sudden death overtime), when Rondo lofted another alley oop to Chandler, except this time the big fella converted it.
Don’t get me wrong, Rondo didn’t play a perfect game. Not at all. He had a few sloppy turnovers, which put him right in the company of all the other guards, missed a reverse layup he’d normally make with a blindfold on (for a mere human, it was actually a pretty tough shot), and had one weak layup attempt swatted out of the air. But the mistakes were mistakes of aggression, as Rondo tried to make plays to help his team win the game. And Rondo, who came off the bench in the game’s first half (which could have been because he missed practice due to a death in the gamily), started the second half and made what would seem to be a very good impression on Coach K and Team USA’s other decision-makers.
The venue and uniform might be different, but last night I saw the same Rajon Rondo I’ve been lucky to watch nightly as a Boston Celtic. Despite suggestions that his game may not adjust well to the international rules, Rondo’s strengths — as they have a tendency to do — shined through far more than his weaknesses. With his head on a swivel and the ball in good hands when in his own, Rondo displayed his unique ability to control a game and make players better, to facilitate his team’s offense with a subtle aggression. After seeing him play 105 games last season, I can’t say I was the least bit surprised.
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