WALTHAM Doling out assists is a big part of Rajon Rondo's game. But it's the ones that most fans don't see that have helped elevate his play and that of his Boston Celtics teammate Courtney Lee.
Prior to many games, the two play one-on-one games in which they push, poke and jab -physically and verbally - with one goal in mind: to make the other better.
Lately it has been working for both players, but especially Lee who has established himself as a steady contributor despite limited minutes.
This season, Lee is averaging 6.7 points per game in 23.2 minutes. During Boston's four-game winning streak - all with Avery Bradley back in the fold, - Lee has seen his minutes dip to 17.8 per game but he's still chipping in 6.4 points while shooting 52.4 percent from the field during that span.
"It has been real good for me, and for him too," Lee told CSNNE.com of facing Rondo daily. "Rondo's one of the best guards, craftiest guards in the NBA. If you can hold your own against him defensively, you're good to go when you get in a game because there aren't many guards who can do what he can do out there."
Lee's man-to-man defense has indeed taken a step forward lately, with him and Bradley at times forming a lethal 1-2 defensive punch that has put defensive backcourts on their heels.
"No disrespect to Rondo or any other guards we got, but Courtney Lee and Avery are impacting the game from a defensive standpoint from the guard position where it all trickles down to all the forwards," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "When we see them up like that, we get up and then we up to what we call, major pressure."
And that has had a major impact on the C's reeling off a season-best four straight wins.
As for Rondo, he too says the one-on-one duels with Lee have helped make him a better player as well.
While Rondo's scoring average of 13.1 points is slightly better than his career average (11 points) and just a shade below his career-best (13.7), the most noticeable change in his game this season has been his perimeter shot making.
Rondo is shooting 49.1 percent from the field this season which ranks among the top-5 among guards this season.
"It gets you in attack mode early," Rondo told CSNNE.com in describing his battles with Lee before games. "You want to get off to a good start. Just getting loose, getting our rhythm, getting some of the game-like shots like when we drive against other opponents. We just feed off one another."