Everything comes up roses for Rondo
If the sluggish performance against the Bulls Thursday motivated Celtics guard Rajon Rondo last night, he wasn’t going to tell.
Rondo scored 20 points, added 14 assists, and played 42 minutes to lead the Celtics to a 104-88 win over the Washington Wizards at TD Garden in a game that gave the Celtics a chance to shake off a lackluster performance with playoff implications the previous night. Rondo didn’t hang around after last night’s game to talk to the media, but he said everything he needed to say on the court.
On Thursday, all eyes were watching his showdown with Bulls guard Derrick Rose, in which the top seed in the Eastern Conference slowly slipped away from the Celtics in a 97-81 loss. Rondo had 7 points and six assists in 31 minutes, while Rose had 30 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds.
The Bulls officially secured the top seed with a victory over Cleveland last night, leaving the Celtics with the consolation prize of a second-place battle with the Heat, who the Celtics play tomorrow in Miami.
After the loss to the Bulls, Rondo met with coach Doc Rivers about the team’s performance, but Rivers didn’t sense Rondo’s aggressiveness last night had anything to do with his effort in Chicago.
“I think [last night’s performance] was a response to the way the Bulls’ and the Celtics’ final score was,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t think it had a lot to do with Rose. We lost the game [Thursday night] and when you lose a game, you go back home, you want to win that game. I thought it was more that.’’
Rondo pushed the ball up the floor throughout the game, and his teammates followed, securing 23 points off 21 Wizards turnovers. Rondo managed as many assists as the Wizards did as a team, and his consistent play became pivotal after Delonte West collected two technical fouls and was tossed at 8:54 of the second.
West appeared to argue a call and, just as quickly as he opened his mouth, he was ejected.
“I got the feeling he said the right words,’’ Rivers said.
Losing West was crucial for a team playing back-to-back games. “He apologized to the team, but still we needed the bodies [last night] on a back-to-back,’’ Rivers said. “And that’s what I told him. I mean, get thrown out [Thursday]. [Last night] we needed you. We needed the body.’’
Without West, the Celtics couldn’t rotate as many players into the lineup. West played just 5:48, had 2 points, 1 assist, and 1 turnover when he was kicked out. His exit sparked the Wizards to an 8-0 run that allowed them to close within 38-37 with 7:27 to go in the first half. The Celtics rebuilt the lead on a run that included a 3-pointer by Ray Allen, a layup by Rondo, and a dish to Allen from Rondo that helped the Celtics take a 47-38 lead.
The assists continued to build for Rondo, as all five starters reached double digits in scoring, led by Paul Pierce’s 22 points and Nenad Krstic’s 17. Pierce said Rondo’s aggressiveness helped the Celtics’ offense fall into a familiar rhythm that can be a challenge for any opponent.
“When he pushes the ball for four quarters, we are tough to beat,’’ Pierce said. “Especially the fourth quarter, that’s one thing I think we tend to get away from in running the floor. That’s part of his progress when he is pushing the ball like that. 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 to beat in the fourth quarter.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com.