|Rajon Rondo hauls in one of his 13 rebounds, this one at the expense of the Pacers' Stephen Graham in the second half. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)|
In Europe, sports fans pay tribute to their favorites by chanting, "There's only one [fill in the blank]," to the song "Guantanamera." They would have had to change their tune following the Celtics game last night, as Rajon Rondo seemed to be in several places at once in achieving his first career triple-double during a 114-96 victory over the Pacers.
"It seemed like there were three Rajon Rondos out there," said Kevin Garnett, who had three dunks off Rondo lobs. "He was everywhere."
Rondo (16 points, 13 rebounds, 17 assists) continued an impressive roll that has coincided with the Celtics' 10-game winning streak. In the first 11 games of the season, Rondo had 78 points and 73 assists; in the next nine games, he has totaled 125 points and 81 assists.
"He's getting everybody easy shots, making the game look simple, and making it simple for everybody," Garnett said. "When we're good defensively, it's because Rondo sets the tone by picking the ball up very early."
The Celtics (18-2), who host Portland tomorrow, avenged a loss to the Pacers (95-79) in Indianapolis Nov. 1. In that game, Rondo had 2 points in 25 minutes, and Pacers point guard T.J. Ford scored 19 points. This time, Rondo started the game aggressively and efficiently, keeping Ford (15 points, eight assists) on the defensive with strong drives, then challenging him physically - Rondo took a Ford back-in to the face and left the game for treatment briefly in the opening minutes.
Rondo achieved the triple-double on a sequence early in the second half - grabbing a defensive rebound, then setting up the offense and grabbing an offensive rebound before feeding Garnett for a 3-point play and a 62-53 lead 1:28 into the third quarter.
But the Celtics were not in the clear, despite going on a 16-2 run late in the first half and a 14-2 spree in the third quarter.
Indiana (7-11), which defeated the Lakers, 118-117, Tuesday night, had the lead last night until late in the opening half. A 3-pointer by Ray Allen (season-high 31 points) gave the Celtics a 42-40 edge with 5:13 to go. The Celtics would extend their advantage to 85-61 on Paul Pierce's foul shot with 2:44 left in the third quarter. Then the Pacers put together a 21-5 rally spanning the third and fourth quarters, keyed by two Danny Granger 3-pointers in the first 1:37 of the fourth, the Celtics then making a final spurt to clinch the win.
"That's why they're in the Finals," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said of the Celtics and Lakers. "They're two of the better teams in the league. Boston has proven they're the best. The Lakers want to take it away from them. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the two of them will be in the Finals this year."
After Troy Murphy's 3-point play cut the Indiana deficit to 90-82, Garnett (26 points) hit a turnaround, Allen and Pierce 3-pointers, and Pierce a tip-in for a 100-82 advantage with 6:10 to go.
"When I came out of the game early, I was so anxious to get back in," Rondo said. "When Doc [Rivers] put me back in, I played the entire first half and I was just out there to do my best. [A triple-double is] not easy to do. I've been so close a lot of games, and to finally get one, I'm excited about it. And, most important, we got the win."
Rondo began picking up his game in the Celtics' 110-101 victory over New York Nov. 18, the second win in this streak. In three games immediately before the Knicks contest, Rondo shot 3 for 17 and totaled 9 points. Then he outscored Allen Iverson, 18-16, as the Celtics took a 98-80 win over Detroit, and has been going strong since.
The last Celtic to record a triple-double was Ryan Gomes (10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) in a 110-108 overtime win over Charlotte Nov. 8, 2006. Pierce (31 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) was the last Celtic with a triple-double in a game that did not to go to OT, a 104-101 win over Philadelphia March 8, 2006.
Asked if Rondo might be expected to total a quadruple-double, Rivers joked, "Yeah, with turnovers, maybe. It's possible. I mean, there's very few guys that have that ability. There's only been about four or five of them. He has the opportunity, someday. Hopefully soon. He has speed and quickness. There is a complete difference - there are a lot of guys who aren't fast runners but have great first steps. Rondo's one of the exceptions; he has both. Rondo's a playmaking guard, and for our team, it's the perfect fit because we have so many scorers."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.