Chapter 9: Rondo runs it
Rondo points Celtics to NBA Finals, becomes unquestioned leader in Boston
Like any good point guard, Rajon Rondo was looking to dish first.
Seated on the interview podium after a transcendent performance in Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which he registered a triple-double with 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists -- all of which were game-highs -- Rondo tried to suggest the Celtics were still a team led by the Big Three of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
"My numbers tonight were what they were, but we still go through the Big Three," Rondo said, deflecting praise to his Hall of Fame-worthy teammates. "They're the main focal point. That's why I'm able to get so many open looks and be so aggressive."
One problem. Even if you combined all of the Big Three's stats that night (45 points, 10 rebounds, five assists), they didn't even come close to the impact made by the team's fourth-year guard.
It's one thing to produce that sort of performance during the regular season, another to do it in the postseason. But it's even more remarkable when you consider Boston was coming off the worst home playoff loss in franchise history and was staring at a 2-1 series deficit that threatened their 2009-10 season.
TABLE OF CONTENTS: LEGEND OF RONDO
• Chapter 1: Diamond in the rough
• Chapter 2: Not in the Cards
• Chapter 3: Like roller coasters?
• Chapter 4: Eye of the beholder
• Chapter 5: The Green beginning
• Chapter 6: Rookie's rude awakening
• Chapter 7: The untouchable
• Chapter 8: The Rondo trade rumors
• Chapter 9: Rondo runs it
• Bonus Chapter: Cousy to Rondo
As Rondo stood at the charity stripe for a pair of freebies with 17.8 seconds remaining, the crowd serenaded him with chants of "M-V-P!" which left the league's actual MVP, LeBron James, smarting as Boston began the process by which it ended the King's season.
For good measure, a month later, with the Celtics' backs against the wall yet again after the Los Angeles Lakers took the opening game of the NBA Finals, Rondo produced another dazzling triple-double -- 19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists -- to help hand all the momentum to Boston as the series shifts to the Celtics' home court for three games.
To be sure, the Celtics have shared the keys to the car this postseason. No player led the team in scoring in back-to-back games through the first 17 playoff contests, a new NBA postseason record.
And while Boston has never been bashful about admitting the heavy mileage on that car's odometer, given an aging roster highlighted by the Big Three and 35-year-old Rasheed Wallace, Rondo has been the AAA roadside assistance.
He also happens to be the gas, the motor, the spark plug -- a little bit of everything that makes this car go.
"He affects the game in so many ways," Kevin Garnett said in late March after Rondo handed out 18 assists in a win over the Sacramento Kings. "Whenever he's frustrated, I relay that message to him. He's hard-headed like all of us, but at the same time he wants it more than every other player on here. That's what you want. You want your point guard setting the tone. You want your point guard leading you."
Evidently, he's the GPS, too.
One season later, he ascended to the starting point guard spot on a championship team, but was still not a player that the opposition felt the need to guard. Heck, Kobe Bryant spent most of the 2008 Finals essentially double-teaming other Boston players as he roamed from Rondo.
Now, in his fourth year, it's hard to keep track of all of Rondo's accolades. After leading the league in steals this season, he was selected first-team All-Defense, racking up the second-most votes behind only Orlando's swat-machine Dwight Howard.
He's an All-Star, having been selected by the coaches to his first midseason classic this past February.
He's a movie star, having made a brief cameo in the recently released basketball-based romantic comedy "Just Wright."
He's a Sports Illustrated cover boy, with a photo of him against the Magic landing on the front of the magazine last month.
And, we can say with complete confidence now, he's the unquestioned leader of the Boston Celtics.
"I'll tell you, man, he's growing up in front of us," Garnett said. "It's great to watch. I used to see him quiet, hiding in the corner; he didn't say two words. Sometimes I sorta miss that. But it's a good thing. I'm happy for him."
The Big Three have seemed reluctant to toss him the keys to the car at times this season, trying to maintain their collective grip on the team.
Such as after a late-season loss to the Houston Rockets, a particularly stomach-turning overtime defeat in which Pierce couldn't even get a potential winning shot off at the end of regulation. The Big Three convened for a postgame meal without Rondo and suggested they had to be the ones to lead this team to postseason success.
Explained Pierce: "We said: 'If we're going to go anywhere [in the postseason], we gotta be the leaders. The other guys have to step up also, and we don't want to take anything away from Rondo and [Kendrick Perkins], but we have to go out there and be consistent, on a night-in and night-out basis.'"
But the Big Three haven't always been consistent this postseason. Rondo has.
Asked during the regular season whether Rondo was the next Pierce, Boston's captain simply chuckled and lofted some hefty praise on his point guard.
"Not really, he's going to be the next Rondo," Pierce said. "He's grown up right before our eyes, and pretty soon he's going to be here, the face of the franchise when we're all gone and in our rocking chairs."
He's already the face of the franchise, and he's part of the reason Boston is competing for another NBA title, even when much of its roster seems ready for rocking chairs.
|Bonus chapter »|
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
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