BOSTON -- The question of whether or not Rajon Rondo would be able to return from a sprained right ankle was "the" topic of conversation prior to Saturday's game against the Toronto Raptors.
Within minutes of Rondo stepping on the court, his ankle became an afterthought. By the end of the game, the questions shifted from "How does your ankle feel?" to "How would it feel to be MVP one day?"
Rondo dished 20 assists in 32 minutes (including seven dimes in the first quarter), extending his 10 assist streak to 33 games dating back to March 11. He is now four games shy of tying John Stockton for the second-longest streak in NBA history (37).
The longer Rondo extends the stretch -- and the more consistently he knocks down his jump shots -- the more frequently his name is mentioned in MVP talks.
"MVP is in the picture. I would like to be one day, but we've just got to keep winning," Rondo said after the Celtics 107-89 win. "Who wouldn't want to be? That's a dream."
This season Rondo is averaging 13.3 points (52.0 FG), 13.4 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game. He doesn't shoot lights out and his jumper will continue to be critiqued, but his impact on the game is immeasurable.
"You know Ive always looked at someone as MVP as someone makes his players not only better, but is able to dictate the game from different stat wise, is able to get rebounds, does multiple things for his team," said Kevin Garnett. "Thats preference. Obviously I'm going to be bias because I play with him, I see his growth and I see how hard he works. But when it comes to his presence on the game, that's hard. That's up there with the modern day Kobes and LeBrons and all that. I think he gets his knocks because he doesn't score the ball and all that. When you look at the overall package, it's unbelievable what he's doing."
Rondo's game is enigmatic, and he likes it that way. Opponents and teammates alike are forced to read where his next pass is going, a learning curve for those who play with him and a challenging task for those defending him.
Even head coach Doc Rivers could not put Rondo's game into words. He considers Rondo "a rare bird" and likened his passing stretches to those of stars such as Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, and Stockton.
"Its an offense in itself," said Rivers. "Weve always said that about him. We have an offense and then he creates another offense at times. Hes a tough one. I sit with a lot of coaches and we brainstorm how to guard him, and I love hearing them because I know the wrong ones. I dont ever say much. But its hard because hes so smart. Now hes making the shot, its a lot harder."
Garnett knew within days of meeting Rondo five years ago that the young guard had immense potential, the kind that goes beyond his physical capabilities. After seeing how he dictated the flow of the game, Garnett offered a promising prediction.
"I evaluate the game from not just the scoring perspective but a defensive perspective too," said Garnett. "I told him a long time ago when I first met him that he had the potential to do both, he had the energy and IQ to do both, and it was up to him. Obviously you all are seeing what his product is coming out to be. The future is whatever he wants it to be. I've always said with Rondo, it's always between his ears. Consistency is everything and whatever you put into this, that's what you're going to get out. He's doing a great job of it."
Rondo will look to continue his streak on Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. He said his ankle felt "half-way decent" playing against the Raptors, assessed it as "79 percent" after the game, and expects he will be "94 percent" better for the next game. He proved on Saturday that a sprained ankle was no match for the way he plays his game.
"It's something I look forward to every night," Rondo said of his assists. "Just trying to make my teammates happy, and somehow I keep getting to ten."