Lost in the nonsense about officiating in a game in which a team that has averaged 97.1 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs scored 118 yet the calls were what was out of place in Game2, there’s Rajon Rondo.
Rondo is, and always has been, a complete mystery, to everyone. It’s taken years for Doc Rivers to unwrap the riddle that is motivating Rondo, years for teammates to understand how he operates. The media? Clueless. They admit it, they accept it, and the most common refrain from guys that cover the team day in and day out is “that’s Rondo, that’s just what he does.” He’ll seem polite one moment and searing the next, he’ll blow off questions, he’ll do charity events, he’s all over the place, and you’re never going to get to understand him because he has decided not to let anyone outside of his inner circle. And that’s completely his right. It’s honestly a little refreshing in the age of stars worried about their brand.
But his game brings questions, too. How can he seem so dominant the next, then so disengaged the next? Is he really the assist machine the stats say he is or is it a product of the Hall-of-Famers around him?How many of his assists are simply routine passes that result in scores as a result of a simple, but brutally effective system utilizing veterans who know how to replicate their success at an 80 percent effectiveness rate?
Is Rajon Rondo the best point guard in the league? Is Rajon Rondo the worst great point guard in the league?
Wednesday night answered none of these questions. But it did provide a glimpse at a world beyond the Big 3, beyond the grind-it-out fight club this Celtics team has to make every game in order to hang. It showed a Rondo that sports fans can dream about, untethered from having to find shots for players that can’t get up and down the floor, no longer having to defer to other players. A Rondo who is free to do what he wants. And a Rondo that can hit a jumper.
Rondo will always look back fondly on this run with the Big 3. What he learned from Kevin Garnett, about how to shut out the media and siphon his energy into his play. What Pierce taught him about leadership and taking charge of a game. What Ray Allen taught him about work ethic and execution. But there’s also a future ahead of Rondo. His career is just getting started.
Some believe that Rondo will crumple once this safety net is gone. Once Kevin Garnett is reflecting in California and Doc Rivers is enjoying life in his home in Florida. When Rondo is on his own, surrounded by players that can’t dominate, that can’t punish. There’s an idea that he’ll turn back into a pumpkin, that he’ll be just another temperamental guard who once was great when surrounded by greatness.
To that I ask, “Are you nuts?”
Rondo’s game Wednesday night is not the perfect game to measure him by. To be honest, he hit the jumpshot better than he may ever hit it again. (Note: Rondo has improved considerably in the past two years at the mid-range jumpshot. He’s just not that good.) But his control of the game is. He knew when to jet past the defender and slip to the rim. He knew when to freeze on the drive, post, pump-fake, and kick out. He knew how to find easy buckets, how to find open looks, how to get past what is honestly one of the best defenses in the league. That is not some “product of the system” crew he got past with speed. It’s a smart, tough, hyper-athletic, hulking monster crew of defenders that attack relentlessly.
And Rondo shredded them.
44 points on 24 shots, 10 of 12 from the line, eight rebounds, ten assists, three steals, three turnovers.
31.7% Usage rate. .751 TS%, 41.7% Assist rate.
Mastery of basketball. Total and complete mastery.
Boston lost, despite this performance, and that’s a whole other conversation (or screaming rant if you choose to break it down to one missed foul on Dwyane Wade). But the fact it was in a loss almost makes it more epic. It shows you what was needed from him. That there was no way Rondo could have done less and Boston could have survived. He showed what could be for his future, what a future in Rondoworld looks like. It’s like some sort of mixture of “Cool World” and a post-apocalyptic arena like “Mad Max” or the video from “California Love.” It’s a world where Rondo’s singular hatred of everything in his way is translated into accuracy and brutality, where a cerebral player that can’t control his emotions uses that energy to outwork, out-execute, and out-perform whatever is in his way.
It makes you wonder what it would be like if he had athletes around him, if he could run, if he wasn’t trying to drag the game into the mud so his teammates could get a stranglehold on the opponent. And this way? It’s going to win more often. We’ve seen that. That’s proven.
But the future of Rondoworld? It’s still enough for you to marvel at. The future is now, and it’s amazing.