Rondo's triple-double leads Celtics past Bobcats

982397.jpg

Rondo's triple-double leads Celtics past Bobcats

BOSTON Rajon Rondo has a birthday coming up next month.

He'll be 27 years old which is still relatively young by most people's standards.

But players that age, especially those who have accomplished all that Rondo has in his NBA career, are indeed targets every time they step on the basketball court.

Aware of this, Rondo made a point -- make that several points -- on Monday to remind folks why he is firmly entrenched on the short list of the NBA's elite point guards.

Rondo's all-around game was among the keys in Boston's 100-89 victory over Charlotte, a game in which Rondo tallied his third triple-double of the season and 26th of his career.

He finished with 17 points along with 12 assists and 10 rebounds in helping the Celtics (20-17) win for the sixth straight game.

"He controlled the game from the start," said Boston's Courtney Lee. "He came out aggressive; he was getting to the hole. He was finishing lay-ups and pressuring the ball. He was setting the tempo early."

During the C's most recent string of victories, Rondo hadn't filled up the stat sheet as he normally does.

The league's leader in assists, Rondo came into Monday's game averaging 8.3 assists per game during the team's winning streak -- about three fewer assists than he has averaged this season.

Charlotte's Kemba Walker was the latest up-and-coming playmaker in the NBA who was hoping to test his skills against the more seasoned Rondo.

"I'm getting a little bit older, so the younger guys are coming in, I kind of have a mark on my back being an older guy, making a couple all-stars," Rondo said. "I'm a target every night. I just wanted to go out there and defend what I do best -- run the show."

For most of the 37-plus minutes Rondo was on the floor, it was classic Rondo. He made an array of acrobatic shots, sprinkled in a slew no-look passes and of course, snared more than his share of rebounds both around the basket and those that took a long bounce away from the rim.

"He's just very crafty," said Bobcats guard Ben Gordon. "He knows the game, he has a very high basketball IQ so he's a mismatch for most guys. Even if he's not scoring he's able to find his teammates. He's a true point guard."

A big part of being a point guard is finding different ways to impact the game.

Despite his numbers being down during the C's recent winning streak, teammate Courtney Lee is quick to come to his defense when it comes to explaining Rondo's impact on the Celtics' success.

"You're used to Rondo impacting the game through assists, getting to the lane and making floaters and lay-ups and what-not," Lee said. "But as you've seen of late, he's picked up his defense and his communication. He's more of a vocal leader out there, so he's impacting games in more ways."

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.