Commentary

Shoot first? Not Rondo

After racking up assists, point guard starts scoring in fourth

Updated: December 9, 2009, 11:08 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Rajon Rondo described himself as a pass-first guard, then reconsidered. He's actually a pass-first and pass-second guard, who shoots third.

A glance at the box score from the Celtics' 98-89 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night at TD Garden might suggest he passes first through third, then shoots in the fourth. At least if you're talking about quarters.

Rondo poured in all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter and finished just shy of a triple-double with 13 assists and 9 rebounds.

"I like taking shots, it's just when you play with guys that are great at what they do, it's my job to distribute the ball," said Rondo. "I'm a pass-first guard. Probably pass second and shoot third. That's how I play. I'd rather get an assist than score with the ball. I shoot when I have to or I feel the need to. Other than that, I'm fine with getting Ray [Allen] the ball, Paul Pierce, or Eddie House. I've got great shooters."

But as Rondo has shown at numerous times this season, he's capable of taking a game over offensively, and not just by distributing the ball.

Take Tuesday, for example. Not only did Rondo score all of his points in the pivotal fourth quarter (the game was tied at 71 after three), but he also registered three assists, which means he was directly involved in 19 of the Celtics' 27 points in that period.

While much of the pregame chatter was about Milwaukee rookie Brandon Jennings (17 points on 7-of-19 shooting) and his prolific offensive numbers, Rondo stole the show.

"With everybody else on the team, you know you kind of lose focus on [Rondo] a little bit because you're so worried about Pierce scoring, Garnett scoring and Allen scoring," said Jennings. "But he did a good job for them, attacking the basket, making plays, and he made some big free throws."

Indeed, Tuesday featured the long-awaited debut of "Hack-a-Rondo," a defensive technique that's sure to be utilized again. Rondo entered the game shooting 40.6 percent (13-of-32) at the charity stripe, but he made 6-of-9 versus Milwaukee.

The most impressive might have come with 4:41 remaining. Rondo had just missed one of two, and Ersan Ilyasova's layup at the other end tied the game at 86.

Charlie Bell then appeared to intentionally foul Rondo, who made both free throws, and Boston led the remainder of the game.

"Tonight was the first time I saw 'Hack-a-Rondo,'" said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "With five minutes left, that was an intentional foul. And he made them. Thank God, you know? He's driving. Early on [this season], I thought he was driving and avoiding contact. He's driving now. He's getting to the basket.

"I told him at halftime, 'Just keep attacking,' and that's what he's doing. The one thing about Rondo -- and this is why you know the shots will go in eventually -- he does believe they're going to go in. He has no problem getting fouled with two minutes or a minute or 30 seconds left and going to the line. And he's going to get fouled more, that's going to happen. So it's really important, obviously, for your point guard to make the free throws. And he's going to do that. He's starting to now."

Rondo entered the final quarter with 10 assists and eight rebounds, but a goose egg in the points column. (He nearly scored at the end of the first quarter by sprinting the length of the court in 3.1 seconds, but his 3-pointer swished through the hoop after the buzzer.)

Rondo scored the Celtics' first four points of the fourth quarter and assisted on Rasheed Wallace's 3-pointer that put Boston on top 81-75 with 8:33 to go.

When the Bucks pulled within a point, he added a layup to keep them at bay. Milwaukee never led in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to Rondo's offense.

"We had tremendous difficulty keeping him in front of us the whole game," said Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles. "We wanted to go under on the pick-and-rolls and we didn't have any luck with that. We tried to make several adjustments and he took it to our rookie [Jennings] pretty good."

"I looked at his numbers and he had zero points in the fourth quarter, and he just distributed the ball throughout the whole game," said Allen. "Then the plays were there for him to make, and to me it was one of his better-played games based on just how he managed it."

If Rondo is indeed a pass-first guard, it begs the question: How does he know when to get a little selfish?

"It's just a feel, really," said Rondo. "I knew early on, going to the cup, I was drawing double-teams and finding Kendrick [Perkins], Kevin [Garnett] and Ray for shots. I knew eventually they'd settle back, make me try to score. In the second half, I tried to be more aggressive."

He pondered for a blink of an eye and added: "But when the time came to pass the ball, I still passed the ball."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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