By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON The season could not have gotten off to a better start for Rajon Rondo.
His numbers in just about every category were on the rise as he emerged as an early dark-horse MVP candidate.
But since the fast start, Rondo's game has cooled off considerably.
He's still the NBA's assists leader this season, but he has failed to record 10 or more assists in Boston's last five games -- his longest such stretch this season.
So what happened?
A lot, actually.
If you trace the origin of Rondo's game falling off some, it was around the Feb. 24 deadline in which the Celtics traded away Kendrick Perkins, one of Rondo's closest friends.
More problematic for Rondo has been the fact that for the bulk of this season, he hasn't had a true backup at the point guard position.
Nate Robinson had the job for a while before being traded, but Robinson's minutes were limited because he was inconsistent.
That's not a surprise when you consider putting him at the point was, in effect, asking him to play a position that doesn't play to his strengths.
Injuries and a suspension limited Delonte West to just eight games played this season.
His most recent ailment has been a sprained ankle that has lasted nearly two weeks.
West told CSNNE.com earlier that he was going to play Wednesday against Indiana "for sure," but with West -- and injuries -- you just never really know.
And then there was Avery Bradley, the Celtics' first-round pick from last June's NBA draft.
A 6-foot-3 combo guard, Bradley has had his ups and downs running the Celtics offense, which is why they felt implored to go out and sign Carlos Arroyo last week.
Rondo finally has a backup, and he couldn't be any more thrilled about it.
"He's a legit point guard, pass-first point guard," Rondo told CSNNE.com. "He's very vocal. He plays smart. He knows what to look for. That's a great pick up for us."
Rondo has missed action earlier this season with plantar fasciitis, but it is unclear if that is a factor in his recent struggles.
Both Rondo and coach Doc Rivers said health-wise, the previous injuries he has been dealing with are not issues now.
"He's human," Rivers said after Boston's 88-79 loss at New Jersey on Monday. "He's going to go through stretches just like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. They've all gone through stretches."
But it's different with Rondo simply because of the role that he plays in the C's success.
Offensively, he is the initiator.
Even though Garnett is the Celtics' defensive anchor, Rondo's defense typically sets the tone for the rest of the team.
With that backdrop, it's not surprising that Rondo believes he has to be the one to get the C's back on track.
"Yeah, I think . . . just trying to get healthy," said Rondo, who tweaked his right ankle against the Nets and had to leave the game to have it re-taped before returning. "It's been a long season."
The addition of Carlos Arroyo should help lessen Rondo's load some, which is something Rondo acknowledges can only help him and the Celtics.
"He's a legit point guard, pass-first point guard," Rondo told CSNNE.com. "He runs a team, he's very vocal. He plays smart. He knows what to look for. That's a great pick-up for us."
And while Rondo wants to play every minute he can, he's been in the grind long enough to know that any chance to get some rest heading into the playoffs, should not be shunned.
"It helps with the rest, as far as getting some rest," Rondo said. "Especially going into the playoffs, the more he's comfortable, the more he'll know what we're looking for as a team, the more rest I'll get. It'll only help my game."
And that would allow Rondo a chance to finish the season off about where it began -- at the top of his game in helping lead the Celtics to victory.