Rondo at the top of his game early on

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Rondo at the top of his game early on

CHICAGO Moments after Boston's 101-95 win over the Bulls, Rajon Rondo was knee-deep in a huge bucket of ice water.

That seems to be the only way to slow him down these days.

While it's too soon to make a strong argument for his place among the league's MVP candidates, Rondo's play is at a level that once again has him thickly entrenched in the argument over the best point guard in the NBA.

In the C's win over Chicago, Rondo had a near triple-double with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

After seven games, he's averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game along with 5.1 rebounds and an NBA-best 12.9 assists per game.

Rondo is also shooting a career-best 52.8 percent from the field with many of his points coming on mid-range and elbow jumpers.

Even with him knocking them down more consistently, he still recognizes that defenses have yet to adapt to the jump-shot making Rondo.

"They pretty much play me the same," Rondo said.

Which as it turns out, is a good thing for the Celtics.

For years, Jason Terry found himself matched up against Rondo when Terry played in Dallas. And the scouting report back then involved giving Rondo space to shoot as much as he wanted.

Lately, Rondo's forcing teams to play a game of pick your poison.

If you give him the open jumper, he's knocking that down.

Teams looking to put more pressure on him as a shooter, find that he still has the ability to blow past them with ease.

"It's all about confidence," said Terry, who spent his eight previous seasons with the Dallas Mavericks prior to signing with Boston. "He understands how the defense is going to play him. It's not going to change. They are going to continue to make him take that shot. He has to be willing to step up, take and make those shots when they're presented to him. Being aggressive, for him this entire season, that's what it's going to be about."

Seeing Rondo continue to grow as a player is a source of pride for veterans like Paul Pierce.

"He works hard at his craft," Pierce said. "It's developing nicely over the years. I feel that with me, Kevin (Garnett) being around here, I've been a part of that. It's beautiful to watch him finally come into his own. I consider him the best point guard in the league. The things he's able to do out there, and with him scoring the ball like that . . . you already know what he can do as far passing and rebounding. He's just unstoppable."

Monday's Red Sox vs. Orioles lineups: Ortiz back from sore foot

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Monday's Red Sox vs. Orioles lineups: Ortiz back from sore foot

David Ortiz makes his return to the Red Sox lineup after being a late scratch on Sunday due to a sore left foot is sore after getting hit by a pitch Saturday. However, Hanley Ramirez is getting the day off, with Travis Shaw getting the start at first.

The lineups:

ORIOLES:
Adam Jones CF
Hyun Soo Kim LF
Manny Machado SS
Chris Davis 1B
Mark Trumbo DH
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Nolan Reimold RF
Ryan Flaherty 3B
Caleb Joseph C
--
Tyler Wilson P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Travis Shaw 1B
Blake Swihart LF
Ryan Hanigan C
Marco Hernandez 3B
---
Steven Wright P

Red Sox haven't allowed opponents to break out the brooms

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Red Sox haven't allowed opponents to break out the brooms

Through the first sixteen series of the season, the Red Sox are 9-5-3 (two ties coming from two-game sets) en route to their AL East leading 30-20 record.

Boston’s only mustered up two series sweeps -- taking two in Atlanta and three from the Yankees at Fenway -- but they’ve avoided the dreaded broom in each of their five series losses.

In fact, in four of their five series losses the Red Sox earned their lone victory in the final game, with Sunday being the most recent instance.

None of the series finale, sweep-defying wins were cakewalks either. Three of the four were decided by three runs or less -- the other being decided by four.

Boston’s MLB-leading 5.9 runs per game offense scored below its average each time -- so Red Sox pitching didn’t have the same gigantic cushion it’s used to.

Prior to his injury, Joe Kelly was the first savior, chucking five innings allowing two earned runs against a Baltimore Orioles team that was undefeated at that point in the season’s youth. Fast forward to the series at Yankee Stadium and Steven Wright nearly through a shutout, holding the Yankees to one run through nine innings.

In the two most recent cases, David Price’s turn came in the lineup -- and he’s answered the call. Boston’s ace held down both the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays -- on the road -- limiting both offenses to two runs each. Both starts have come the day after one-run losses, too.

So while Price’s “stuff” hasn’t been at its best, admitting Sunday it usually isn’t against the Blue Jays, he’s displayed the intangible aces are supposed to have – guts.

Now on any other team, they might be in trouble given Boston’s offense is the best in baseball. Because a bad scoring day for the Red Sox is better than almost half the league’s average day. But they aren’t on any other team, so that’s not the issue.

For all the struggles the Red Sox’ starting pitchers have dealt with, they’ve managed to get the job done when they’ve needed it.

Those wins add up, too.

If the Red Sox are swept in these four series, they sit at 26-24 right in the middle of the AL East -- and this season has an entirely different feel to it.

In an age where numbers have become the central focus of the game, Boston’s starting pitchers have managed to lock-in when the club needs it most -- and must continue to do so.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.

Monday, May 30: Sullivan reminisces about coaching Thornton

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Monday, May 30: Sullivan reminisces about coaching Thornton

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while honoring and remembering those that paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freed on this Memorial Day.

*Here’s a hockey column from Mark Madden, which kind of proves his dopiness when it comes to pucks. He writes about Pittsburgh’s excellent shutdown pair of Ian Cole and Justin Schultz, who have averaged a whopping 15 and 13 minutes of ice time respectively in these playoffs. Yeah, that’s not a shutdown pair. That’s called a bottom pairing.

*PHT writer Joey Alfieri with another chapter in hockey’s version of the Never-ending Story: John Scott wants to make his own World Cup team with Phil Kessel.

*Mike Sullivan reminisces about coaching Joe Thornton, and playing for the San Jose Sharks, as his Penguins ready to take on San Jose in the Stanley Cup Final.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s me wondering what the heck the Bruins are doing on Sports Sunday last night on CSN.

*Apparently Alex Semin is going to stay in the KHL for this coming season. I don’t think anybody is too heartbroken around the NHL about this given the way things ended for him.

*Buffalo’s Mike Harrington says that Sidney Crosby returns to the Stanley Cup Final with a new kind of hunger

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Zeisberger goes 1-on-1 with Joe Thornton, who says that the cat likes his Hillbilly Jim playoff beard.

*For something completely different: I haven’t yet read this Joe Posnanski piece on the play Hamilton and his daughter, but I’ll include it because everybody says that it’s great.