Rondo's gambles pay off
He breaks single-season record for steals and earns teammates' respect
BOSTON -- With a second-quarter pickpocket of Sean May, Rajon Rondo established a new Boston benchmark for steals in a single season, moving him out of a tie with Rick Fox, who registered 167 thefts during the 1996-97 season.
[The records] may mean more to me once I retire or I am away from here. I am just focused on winning.” -- Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo
But just because your name is featured in the Celtics' record book doesn't mean teammates treat you any differently.
As the TD Garden staff acknowledged Rondo's accomplishment with a message on the JumboTron that elicited a standing ovation from the crowd, his teammates playfully chided him about also setting a new franchise record for gambles in a single season.
The insinuation there is that Rondo's success is based on luck. Clearly, the 24-year-old point guard would like to think it's more skill.
"I'd get a lot more [steals] if I were a gambler," said Rondo, who leads the NBA at 2.39 steals per game and, with three thefts Friday night in a 94-86 triumph over the Kings, 170 steals overall (30 more than the nearest competitor -- Golden State's Monta Ellis -- entering Friday's action).
"The guys were saying I have the record for most steals and most gambles in one season. I don't know if you keep that stat, but ..."
Sitting nearby during the postgame press conference, Kevin Garnett instantly piped in, "Yeah, we keep it. [Celtics media relations czar Jeff] Twiss got it. He just got told."
Fox's record broken
Despite calling Boston home for his first six years in the NBA, Rick Fox's career is better known for the three championships he won with the Lakers and his name certainly isn't one you'd expect to find in the Celtics' record book.
Heck, even Fox was surprised to find out he still had a spot in Celtics lore when asked earlier this week about Rajon Rondo nearing his single-season mark for steals.
"I actually didn't realize I still had the record," Fox said by phone from California this week. "I thought someone must have broken it a while ago. It's interesting it stood that long with all the good players they had since then."
The self-deprecating Fox, who found post-basketball fame in acting, said he even felt sorry for Rondo in a way.
"When I broke the record, I passed Larry Bird," he said. "When he breaks it, he'll be passing me. Big difference. But I'll still be No. 2 and that's a good memory to have, to still have a small piece of the record book."
Ironically, 24-year-old Rondo and 40-year-old Fox are actually linked together in an odd way.
The 21st pick that the Phoenix Suns would ultimately use to select Rondo in the 2006 NBA draft started in motion to Boston when the Los Angeles Lakers traded that pick, Fox and Gary Payton to Boston for Chucky Atkins, Jumaine Jones and Chris Mihm on Aug. 6, 2004.
The Celtics then traded the pick to Atlanta with Payton, Tom Gugliotta and Michael Stewart to bring Antoine Walker back to the Hub on Feb. 24, 2005.
The pick later ended up in Phoenix, where Boston had the Suns select Rondo as part of a draft-night trade that sent the University of Kentucky product and Brian Grant to Boston for a 2007 first-round pick (Rudy Fernandez).
Truth be told, Garnett beamed like a proud papa while talking about Rondo's accomplishment. In a press conference that typically spans five or six minutes, Garnett and Rondo sat at the podium for more than 13 minutes, much of it spent gushing about Rondo etching his name in Celtics lore.
"Any time you get any record, whether it be assists or steals or rebounds, records don't just fall in your lap," Garnett said. "Great effort and anticipation. I have never been anywhere near steals and all of that. The anticipation is a gamble at times, but you know we understand Rondo's game and we all do different things. We know that nine times out of 10, he is solid. He does gamble, but eight out of 10 times he is right."
Rondo's gambles are actually down from past seasons, when you could actually make the case that he set franchise (and maybe league) marks for gambling, often trying to poke the ball away from opposing guards as they blew past him toward the basket.
"It means he's a better defender," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "You can lead the league in steals and not gamble all the time. You can be solid and still get a lot of steals. That's what he's done.
"[Rondo] does have a gift and we always want him to play through that gift -- as long as he's not hurting the team."
While dribble-drive penetration by opposing guards has been an issue at times this season, Rondo more than makes up for his defensive lapses with the havoc he causes. He's constantly in the passing lanes, using his length to deflect balls, chase them down, then start the rush the other way.
"He just creates uncertainty," said Ray Allen. "Point guards just don't know exactly what to expect. He makes them so uncomfortable out there on the floor. He's just so quick, has long arms, before you know it the ball's going in the other direction."
On the night he set the single-season mark for steals, Rondo climbed another spot toward establishing a new single-season mark for assists.
With a career-high 18 dimes, Rondo vaulted ahead of Sherman Douglas, who sat second on the list with 683 assists during the 1993-94 campaign. Rondo now boasts 701 assists for the 2009-10 season, putting him just 14 behind Bob Cousy's record, set 50 years ago.
It's a mark that, at this rate, could fall Sunday against San Antonio.
Teammates and coaches can't stop raving about Rondo's court vision and his ability to utilize it while playing at such a high speed. But Rondo takes it all in stride, noting that his personal achievements come alongside the team's overall success.
"[The records] may mean more to me once I retire or I am away from here," Rondo said. "I am just focused on winning. It is a great accomplishment. This organization has won so many championships and has had some great players come through -- so many All-Stars have set records here. Hopefully down the line, [I will set the assists] record. At the end of the day I'm just trying to focus on getting wins; and individual accomplishments, they come in the path of doing great things for the team."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter. ESPNBoston basketball columnist Peter May contributed to this report.