His packing the box score was great stuff
This was beyond stardom and fullcourt dominance. This was more than most of the guys in the rafters ever did. This was in the Cousy, Havlicek, Bird arena. Actually, it was better.
Put it this way: Four games have been played between the Celtics and Cavaliers and Rajon Rondo is enjoying a much better series than the best player in the world.
The Celtics squared the conference semifinals (the only NBA series currently worth watching) yesterday with a 97-87 victory over the stunned and overrated Cavaliers. Boston’s all-galactic guard scored 29 points with an astounding 18 rebounds and 13 assists. In four games against the Cavs he is averaging 21.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 13 assists. And 42 minutes.
LeBron James was good for a mere 22 points on 7-for-18 shooting in Game 4. Guess the elbow was hurting again. You know how it works. When LeBron rains 38 on your head he’s healthy, but when he disappears two days later (seven turnovers), he must be hurting.
Rondo, meanwhile, never sleeps. He had 27 points and 12 assists in Game 1. He had 19 assists in 45 minutes in Game 2. He was a mortal 18-point scorer when the Celtics got blown out in Game 3, but yesterday the Cavaliers felt his full fury. He was the Roadrunner, beating Cleveland baseline to baseline. Rondo was on the floor for all but 72 seconds.
Some perspective: According to a release handed out by the Celtics after the game, “Rondo’s performance today was only the third time in NBA history that a player accumulated points, rebounds, and assists totals of that level in an NBA playoff game.’’ The awkwardly worded release cited Oscar Robertson (32 points, 19 rebounds, 13 assists March 26, 1963) and Wilt Chamberlain (29 points, 36 rebounds, 13 assists April 11, 1967).
Everybody’s favorite Rondo moment came late in the third quarter when he got out in front of a fast break and abused LeBron with a rock-the-cradle, behind-the-back pass to Tony Allen for a thunder dunk that broke a 70-70 tie.
“[James] is always chasing me down and he’s blocked some of my layups,’’ said Rondo. “Baby [Glen Davis] made a great pass. I knew LeBron was coming. I had to sell it like I was making a layup. He jumped, and I made the pass.’’
“If he would have laid it up, I would have had it,’’ said James. “That’s why he went behind the back.’’
Sometimes it’s hard to believe Rondo is only 6 feet 1 inch. It’s hard to believe he’s only 24, with four years in the league. It’s hard to believe he was a candidate for benching after a horrible Game 5 in the Finals against the Lakers two years ago. It’s hard to remember he was in Danny Ainge’s doghouse just over a year ago.
“He’s a point guard that runs our team and has complete control of our team,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “When he won it, he was still trying to figure out how to be a point guard. Now we rely on him to win.’’
They rely on him in part because Paul “Big Papi’’ Pierce (they even share the same number) has been a no-show for most of this series. Pierce scored 9 points and had two rebounds in 31 minutes of Game 4. That made more work for Rondo.
“I feel for him at times,’’ said Rivers. “With our foul trouble, his rest periods are taken away. What doesn’t show up on the stats is his ball pressure. I thought that was the biggest difference. It allowed us to do other things. To me, that might have been the hardest thing he had to do.’’
“He did impose his will on the game,’’ said Cleveland coach Mike Brown. “Whether it was driving the basketball or kicking it out or offensive rebounds. Rondo had a huge impact on the game. He’s got a great nose for the basketball. He’s extremely quick to the ball. You can’t ever stop playing when he’s on the floor.’’
“I think the best way for us to start a fast break is when I rebound,’’ said Rondo. “I just wanted to continue to attack. That’s how we got the lead in the first place.’’
What about his Bird-like box score?
“I didn’t know till after the game,’’ Rondo said. “I didn’t know I had that many rebounds. I just tried to be aggressive. I just tried to help the bigs as much as possible. Everyone played great. It was a collective team effort. I had a couple of numbers, but the big thing was we got the win.
“I’m just trying to become more of a leader. We still look up to the Big Three. That’s why I get so many open looks and try to capitalize on mistakes the defense makes. I’m very confident at what I do. I just have to keep maturing. The starting five has been together for three years now and we’re getting a better feel for each other.’’
James said he would guard Rondo, if asked.
“I would love to,’’ said the King. “It’s something that maybe we should explore, because Rondo has definitely dominated the series. If the coaching staff wants me to do it, I would do it.’’
LeBron James wants to guard Rajon Rondo. That’s what it’s come to. Makes you look forward to Game 5 tomorrow night and Game 6 back at the Garden Thursday.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.