Finally, Rondo's back


Finally, Rondo's back

By Rich Levine

BOSTON This is one of many, many stories that will be written about Rajon Rondo after Tuesday nights playoff victory at the Garden.

And for very good reason.

In Bostons 96-93 win over Spike Lees soldiers, Rondo led the Cs with 30 points and seven assists, and added four rebounds, two steals and only four turnovers in 42 minutes of action. Then again, with the way he was moving, those 42 minutes might as well have been 70. He pushed the tempo, and attacked the hoop with an ease and consistency that very few can. He scored 14 points in the first quarter alone, during which he ran up and down on the Knicks like theyd been collectively implanted with Shaquille ONeals ACLs. He was far and away the most dominant player on the court, and the sole reason for the Celtics inspiring start.

I just thought, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce gave me great outlet passes, he said, and I tried to attack the rim.

And he did so at an unbelievable rate. One that had Don Nelson and Doug Moe clicking their glasses, and one that had Rondo, whod typically rather share a bubble bath with Chris Paul than come out of a game, begging for a breather.

I just got tired in the first quarter, he said. I told Doc Rivers to give me a rest. Im comfortable playing the minutes Im playing. It was just that first session was like a track meet.

And Rondo was Usain Bolt.

By the second half, Carmelo Anthonys one-man show had stolen the headlines, and in the games decisive moments, Garnetts grittiness and Rivers superior coaching may have made the biggest difference. But on a night that left much to be desired from the Celtics perspective (I thought we were lucky to win, Rivers said afterward), Rondos performance will have the most lasting effect on how the season ultimately pans out.

Its no secret that the Celtics will only go as far the Rondo takes them. Hes the engine that drives Bostons success, and they can only be at their best when hes at his running, driving, dishing; making things so much simpler for his teammates while creating chaos for the opposition.

But before Tuesday night, it remained to be seen whether he was up to the task.

Were not talking about actual skills andor physical talent. Sure, the jumper can be an issue, and the foul shots are infuriating, but Rondos ability to take over a game has never been in question.

Instead, its his will.

In the weeks, and now, nearly months since the Celtics dealt Kendrick Perkins (whether or not the actual trade is to blame) Rondo wasnt the player Boston needed him to be. He was reluctant to run, unwilling to attack and seemingly terrified to earn a trip to the foul line. For part of that stretch, a bum pinky garnered some of the blame, but that never seemed entirely legitimate. There was something else going on. We just werent sure what it was.

Thats how it goes with Rondo. Youre never sure what hes thinking.

What happens inside the locker room is one thing, but outside hes a blank slate. Hes always playing poker. He always leaves you guessing, scratching your head over what the hell must be going on inside his. And thats how Boston spent the home stretch of the regular season: In a state of Rondo-fueled confusion.

But through it all, the assumption was always that the playoffs would force out those demons; that the bright lights of the national stage would awaken the post deadline malaise. Hes too proud and competitive. He knew how much the postseason meant to not only his own legacy, but to the Big Three's. He also sat out the last week of the regular season, so you knew his body would be ready. You knew Rondo would be ready.

But in Game 1, he still wasnt there. The numbers were decent. For most players, 10-9-9 is more than respectable. But for Rondo and the Celtics, in the big picture, it wasnt enough. There were still fast breaks left on the table. There were still lanes, sometimes wide open, other times only blocked by a hobbled, 34-year-old Chauncey Billups that were passed up in favor of an unnecessary kick out. He was still unwilling to put the team on his back, and this was a team that needed it. Not even for an entire 48 minutes. After all, thats asking a lot. Considering the beating he takes, its asking too much. Sure, they always need his presence. They need his consistency. He's the point guard. He's the engine. But the dominance, those moments when no one is better, can be saved for stretches.

For stretches like the first quarter of Tuesday nights win, when he basically just stepped in and said, OK, guys. Follow me.

Thats what had been missing. And even if it wasnt the deciding span of the game, it marked the return of the Rajon Rondo that the Celtics essentially lost at the trade deadline. The guy who will make the biggest difference in what this team can and will ultimately accomplish.

That was what we talked about, he did it, it was terrific, Rivers said. We got away from it because they started scoring; they scored 26 points in the fourth quarter. But it was good to see he can do that.

Why it took until tonight for him to actually "do that," we may never know. In fact, there may be a time where we just stop trying to figure out Rondo all together.

If he spends the next four years playing as coy and elusive off the court as he is dynamic on it, Rondo will leave Boston as the same enigma he is now.

But for all the mystery, theres one thing we know for sure:

On a team of stars, Rondos is the one that must burn brightest.

And if the Celtics are going to accomplish any of what this city hopes they will, the story we write today will have to be retold many times over.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision


Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision

WALTHAM, Mass. – Just like Avery Bradley comes back each season with a new element in his basketball tool box, defenses have adapted to some degree to try and counter whatever Bradley is doing a better job at.

Before it was take away the mid-range shot and make him a 3-point shooter. Now it’s run him off the 3-point line by closing out hard and fast against him.

Well, running him off the 3-point line is actually playing into the hands of two areas of Bradley’s game that have seen significant growth during the offseason: ball-handling and court vision.

Bradley’s improvement in those areas has been evident in the preseason, something the seventh-year guard hopes to continue in the regular season opener on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.

“I worked on my ball-handling a lot,” Bradley said. “Instead of doing all the Kyrie (Irving) stuff that trainers have people do, I tried to focus on just one or two moves, just perfecting a few moves that I can put into my game.”

What we’ve seen from Bradley is better sense of when to attack players with his ball-handling and when to use it as a set-up to get his teammates good shots.

He attributes both to the work he has put in and just becoming an older, more wiser player on the floor.

“I’m able to make plays for my teammates because I’m a lot more confident in my ball-handling, in my play-making and my decision-making," said the 25-year-old Bradley. "I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”

While it may not seem like that big a deal that Bradley’s putting the ball on the floor more and attacking off the dribble, it’s actually really important for this Celtics team.

With Bradley now looking to attack off the dribble more, that means that the Celtics now have a starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – with each player comfortable and confident in their ability to take most defenders and their respective positions, off the dribble.

That makes Boston a significantly better team offensively in terms of being highly unpredictable and to a larger degree, tougher to contain.

“He’s a great defender, one of the best in the NBA,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told “But people sleep on his offensive game. He can hit the corner 3s, wing 3s, pull-up jumpers … he can pretty much do it all out there. Now that he’s looking to get to the rim more, that just makes him and our team really, much better.”

Indeed, Bradley sounds as though he plans to continue probing different ways to generate points for the Celtics.

One approach he’ll surely take is to do a better job of taking advantage of the mistakes defenses make against him, like players who try and chase him off the 3-point line.

“Me being  a better 3-point shooter should challenge me to think the game a little more,” he said. “If it’s drawing fouls … I know I should be drawing more fouls from the 3-point line. There are times when people are just running out of control at me at the 3-point line. I have to be smarter.”

Bradley added, “I worked on that this summer. It’s translated in practice, so now it needs to translate in games.”

Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery


Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery

WALTHAM, Mass. – Avery Bradley had just returned to the Boston Celtics lineup after having had surgery on both shoulders, eager to put his injury-riddled days in the past.

Then-Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue had suffered a similar shoulder injury a decade earlier in 2003, so he knew all too well what Bradley was going through.

“I remember Tyronn Lue took me to the side and said, ‘you’re going to struggle,’” Bradley recalled. “When he said it to me, I was like, ‘what is he talking about?’”

The words of Lue, now the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, were indeed prophetic. And now that current Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk is back to practicing after having surgery on his right shoulder, Bradley plans to be there for Olynyk the way Lue was there for him.

Bradley, who missed the first 30 games of the 2012-2013 season recovering from the injury, recalls struggling with his shot for the first couple of weeks.  

His first game back was Jan. 2, 2013. For the next two weeks, Bradley shot 40.6 percent from the field (28-for-69) and 28.6 percent (8-for-28) on 3s, both below his career averages in those respective categories.

Bradley is hopeful Olynyk doesn’t struggle as much as he did upon his return to the lineup from shoulder surgery.

But just in case, Olynyk knows he has a teammate who literally knows what he’s going through right now in trying to get back on the floor and play good basketball.

“It’s our job as his teammates to help keep him confident in himself,” Bradley said. “I told him, ‘you’re going to have your days when you come in and you might make shots. Then you’ll have your week where you don’t make a shot.’ You just have to stay confident.”

But Bradley admits it’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you’ve had success shooting the ball and now all of a sudden the shots that you normally make in your sleep keep you up at night wondering why they no longer going in.

“It just happens. The muscle memory, you have to get it back,” Bradley said. “It’s just reps; that’s what it took. It took like maybe a good month before my shot felt good again. It’ll probably be the same for Kelly; hopefully not. If it is, I’ll be there to make sure he’s positive and knowing it’s a process and he has to continue to get shots up.”

But there’s more to returning to the game when healthy.

While the body may be ready to go, the mind more often than not hasn’t totally cleansed itself of the injury.

“It’s still in the back of your mind, thinking it’s going to happen again,” Bradley said. “You may not want to drive it to the basket as much or box out the same way or be aggressive. But like I said, we have to give him that confidence and he has to do his work as well, staying in the weight room, making sure he’s strong. We’re here to help.”

And no one is offering the consistent assistance that Bradley has to his injured teammate.

“I’ve taken him to the side like five times already and I told him, ‘I’m here bro. Whatever you need,’” Bradley said. “I’m just happy that he’s back."