By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON After Thursday night's loss at Chicago, there were plenty of Boston Celtics players who, to a man, knew they were better players than what we saw in the team's 16-point debacle in Chi-town.
Near the top of that group has to be Rajon Rondo, who delivered a redemption-esque performance in leading the Celtics to a 104-88 win over the Washington Wizards.
Washington rookie John Wall has explosive quickness, and the ability to score in bunches.
But he's not Derrick Rose, the front-runner for the league's MVP race this year and the man that had his way in shredding Rondo and the rest of the Celtics defense on Thursday night to the tune of 30 points and eight assists.
On Friday, Rondo bounced back with his 31st double-double of the season, tallying 20 points to go with a game-high 14 assists.
Whenever the Celtics play the Bulls, Boston head coach Doc Rivers gets more than his share of Rondo vs. Rose questions.
After Rose had a big game against Rondo on Thursday, those questions once again surfaced.
There's little doubt that Rondo came into Friday's game focused on playing better than he did at Chicago, Rivers isn't sold on the notion that Rose's play had an impact on Rondo's strong game against the Wizards.
"I think it was a response to the way the Bulls' and Celtics' final score was," Rivers said. "I don't think it had a lot to do with Rose. We lost the game and when you lose a game, you go back home, you want to win that game. I thought it was more that."
One of the keys to Rondo's success was that from the game's early moments, he made an effort to get out and run.
That ability to run more is fueled by the Celtics getting stops, and making good outlet passes to Rondo so that he can either look for a basket for the C's in transition, or he can initiate their half court sets quicker.
Still, teammates recognized that Rondo was a more aggressive player at both ends of the floor on Friday.
"When he pushes the ball for four quarters, we are tough to beat," said Paul Pierce, who led all scorers with 22 points.
After Washington cut Boston's lead to 87-83 with more than seven minutes to play, Rivers brought Rondo back into the game.
Moments after checking in, Rondo scored on a lay-up. A couple minutes later, he got a steal and soon found Pierce for a lay-up that gave the C's a 93-83 lead.
"That's part of his progress when he is pushing the ball like that," Pierce said. "We have to get stops also. It goes hand-in-hand. When he is pushing it, we have to get stops and when he's playing that way, we are tough in the fourth quarter."