Rondo the Great
Rajon Rondo is not fun to watch. He is mesmerizing.
Rajon Rondo is not fast. He is lightning.
Rajon Rondo is not mentally strong. He is genius.
Rajon Rondo is not stubborn. Well, yes he is stubborn, but we might change the word to tenacious.
Rajon Rondo is not a good passer. He is a magician.
Twenty years ago, we might replace the name Rajon Rondo with Larry Bird.
There are certain players who make an entire sport better. Rondo is one of those players. Like Pedro Martinez on the pitcher’s mound, or Roger Federer on the tennis court, Rajon Rondo has within him a higher ceiling of potential than almost any other player of his position in his sport. Pedro’s extra-long fingers gave him the advantage of extra spin when releasing a baseball. Federer’s mind-boggling, ballet-like footwork give him an advantage when maneuvering around the court. Rondo’s cat-like agility and extra-large hands are two of his advantages. All three of these athletes have the aptitude to out-think their opponents. But all three are also so physically gifted that they have varying and inconsistent degrees of mental toughness in their approaches. All three also tend to play their best when the games matter the most.
Exhibit A) Rajon Rondo’s 29 point, 18 rebound, 13 assist masterpiece in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals yesterday in Boston. With the Celtics down two games to one, and heading back to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena (unfortunate arena name) for Game 5, Rondo’s performance single-handedly kept the Celtics’ playoff hopes alive. Through three quarters, Rondo had already reached double digits in points, rebounds and assists. He had ignited the Celtics offense in Games 1 and 2, but it was in Game 4 that he established himself as the best player in this series: the same series that involves LeBron James of the Cavs, MVP of the basketball universe and the most talked-about basketball player since Michael Jordan. Granted, LeBron is playing with a less-than-perfect right elbow, which he will deny is having any impact on his performance, but which seems to have affected his numbers in the two games which were played on fewer days rest.
In the fourth quarter, Rondo’s greatest contribution came on the boards. The Celtics ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams in rebounding this season. Despite a reputation for greatness on the defensive end, the Celtics have struggled mightily in the rebounding category. With the Celtics clinging to a two-point lead, Rondo started the quarter with a fast-break lay-up hand-delivered by Tony Allen in a reversal of roles. He followed with a missed three-pointer, before collecting his 12th rebound of the game on an Anthony Parker miss. Over the course of the rest of the quarter, Rondo gathered four more defensive rebounds and two offensive rebounds (one of which resulted in a slithery put-back and the Celtics pushing the lead to seven with less than two minutes left. The Celtics finished with a 47-33 advantage on the glass. The Cavs managed only three offensive rebounds, one less than Rondo’s total. Rondo’s 14 defensive rebounds were more than Shaquille O’Neal, Anderson Varejao, Anthony Parker and Mo Williams put together in 131 combined minutes. Mike Brown, in his post-game press conference was forced to admit that Rondo has a “nose for the ball.” LeBron mentioned that he’ll talk to Coach Brown about guarding Rondo for the rest of the series. While that might make LeBron feel better, there is little doubt that Ray Allen and Paul Pierce would benefit from the match-up problems that would create for the Cavs.
Rondo’s fourth post-season triple double was undoubtedly the most important one of his young career. Today, everyone is talking about Rajon Rondo. On this team, he is the most important Celtic. The reputations of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are all stellar. Still, Rondo is the heart of this team now. Big Three are now the Little One. Two years ago he was learning on the fly how to handle the pressure of the NBA Playoffs and being the youngest starting point guard on an NBA Championship team in history. Today, Rondo’s desire to improve has already earned him an All-Defensive first team award. His free-throw percentage, perhaps his biggest weakness coming into the season, and still a problem despite the practice through the regular season, has jumped from 63% to 77% in the playoffs. Rondo is twenty-four years-old. He continues to improve his outside shot, which was the main reason he was drafted 22nd overall in 2006. He has developed a knack for buzzer-beating three-point shots. The future of the Celtics sits in Rondo’s over-sized hands. How far he will carry them this season has yet to be determined.