The consensus around the league is that the Boston Celtics have taken a step backwards after winning an NBA best 66 games and capturing their first NBA title in more than 20 years. But with Monday night’s win over the Nuggets, the Celtics matched their 2007-08 record (46-12) through 58 games.
The Celtics aren’t as deep as they were last season and while their defense remains stifling, it isn’t as efficient as it was a year ago. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s numbers are down from last season as well. How then have the Celtics maintained last season’s pace? It’s simple really: Boston’s “Big Three” has become the “Fab Four.” Rajon Rondo has arrived.
Garnett, Pierce and Allen remain Boston’s best players, but Rondo has become their most valuable player. Or as Garnett puts it: “It starts and ends with Rondo.”
The third-year point guard is averaging career highs across the board, posting career bests in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and field goal percentage. Rondo still struggles to connect from outside, but his quick first step and tight handle make it impossible for defenders to keep him out of the paint. And that’s where Rondo wrecks havoc on opposing defenses. Rondo is first among all NBA guards in field goal percentage (51.6%), due in large part to his ability to finish inside (65.2 eFG%).
When the defense collapses on Rondo’s penetration, he counters by finding teammates for open looks. Cross-court bounce passes, baseline slings, strong and weak-handed dimes on the move — you name it. Rondo has every pass in his arsenal and does a phenomenal job of delivering the ball to teammates in their shooter’s pockets so they can dial in from long distance without having to adjust the ball before shooting.
Defensively, Rondo keeps his opponents guessing with different looks and uses his huge wingspan (6-foot-10) and quick hands to pick pockets and disrupt passing lanes. All-NBA defensive teams are normally determined by steal and block totals (Rondo trails Chris Paul by .74 steals per game for the league lead), but it will be a shame if Rajon is left off the All-NBA Defensive 1st team. Boston’s league-leading defense wouldn’t be nearly as efficient without Rondo denying penetration at the point of attack.
Rondo’s impact doesn’t end with traditional offensive and defensive measures either. He also brings a number of intangibles to the table. He’s an excellent offensive rebounder from the guard position (1.4 per game). Rondo grabbed 3 offensive boards in the first quarter versus Denver. Those extra possessions resulted in a putback, a hockey assist to Ray Allen for a three-pointer, and a trip to the charity stripe where he converted both free throws. That 7-point swing enabled Boston to take a 9-point lead heading into the second quarter and led to a 23-point advantage at halftime.
Rondo is also humble to a fault. Despite an NBA championship on his resume, an All-Star worthy first-half of the season, and a four-game stretch where he averaged 20 points, 9.8 assists, 7.5 assists, and shot 70% against the Mavericks (Jason Kidd), Jazz (Deron Williams), Suns (Steve Nash), and Nuggets (Chauncey Billups), Rondo had to clarify whether a writer was including him, and not one of his teammates when citing the “Big Four” after Boston’s win over Denver. And there wasn’t a trace of insincerity in his voice when he insisted that he was “just a role player focusing on winning another championship.”
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