Ball up: Pregame one-on-one improving play of Lee, Rondo

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Ball up: Pregame one-on-one improving play of Lee, Rondo

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."

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

BOSTON -- Prior to this year, the Celtics hadn't been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012. That trip served as a curtain call of sorts for the last great C's dynasty.
 
But this one, which ended with Cleveland's emphatic 135-102 Game 5 victory Thursday at TD Garden, is very different.
 
Rather than closing another chapter in the Celtics' longstanding legacy of greatness, it could serve as the beginning of a new narrative in the franchise's steady growth.
 
"For us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green . . . I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it's a big-time accomplishment," said Avery Bradley.
 
Boston has been among the younger teams in the NBA, with the 31-year-old Green being the oldest player on the roster.
 
But what the Celtics lacked in experience, they made up for with great effort.
 
"The great thing about this is the experience," Bradley said. "We were able to go to the Eastern Conference finals, learned a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it's going to help us for next year."
 
But as we all know, the Celtics will look to strengthen themsevles this offseason, which means there's a very good chance they'll have a different look when they gather again in the fall.
 
How different is anyone's guess.
 
"It's difficult every year whenever you don't have guys back," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think you share a bond (over the course of a season)."
 
Stevens and this group have been together for eight months. Eight months of struggles, successes, frustrating defeats and euphoric victories that brought them to the conference finals, which is where their season came to an end.
 
But as disappointed as the players and coaches are inow, there's definite excitement about this franchise in the very near future.
 
Boston has the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, with all indications -- for now -- pointing to Washington's Markelle Fultz as their choice.
 
And their top first-round pick from a year ago, Jaylen Brown, seemed to steadily improve as the season progressed. It was one of the few times in his life where minutes weren't just handed to him, which he admits was a learning experience unlike anything he had ever had, yet he adjusted and played better as the year went along.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had opportunities, I've had mistakes," said Brown. "So I've been learning and growing and improving all year and I'm going to continue growing and improving and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong."
 
Having the season end the way it did has indeed left a bad taste in the mouths of many Celtics.
 
"I can use it as fuel," Brown said, adding: "I want to get back to the same place I'm at now."
 
Bradley, who was on the 2012 team that lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, knows the Celtics are going to do whatever they feel is necessary to give them the best chance at competing for a title.
 
"It's out of our control as players," Bradley said. "We had a great year together. If guys are here, if guys aren't, we all wish the best for each other.

"But I do feel this is a special group. We all gave our heart every single night, played as hard as we could. I respect all my teammates, and I really appreciated playing with all the guys I had a chance to play with this year; a special group."