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Bob Ryan

Rondo has found his calling again

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / April 23, 2011

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NEW YORK — Impressionable people — that would be you and me — will be focusing on the 15-point, 11-rebound, 20-assist triple-double.

The coach had another thought.

“I thought he did a great job of play calling,’’ said Doc Rivers. “He called a great game.’’

On Tuesday night, Rajon Rondo hit the Knicks with a career playoff-high 30 points. Last night, he submitted the aforementioned triple-double (and throw in a pair of steals). If we’ve learned one thing from this series, it’s that the Knicks cannot deal with Rondo.

Meanwhile, after a pair of squeakers that gave new meaning to the concept of “lucky,’’ the Celtics played a suspense-free game last night. So much for the hoopla surrounding the first Knicks home playoff game in seven years.

The Celtics went wire-to-wire, taking the sold-out crowd of 19,763 out of it immediately by jumping to a 9-0 lead and then blowing it open with a 34-19 third quarter that led to a 113-96 triumph and a 3-0 series lead. Is it necessary to remind anyone that no NBA team has ever lost a 3-0 series lead?

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were at the absolute tippy-top of their games. Pierce had 38 points. Allen had 32. They were a combined 25 for 37 from the floor, but what’s even sicker is that they were a combined 14 for 19 on threes.

You can guess, of course, who was getting them the basketball.

“He got 20 assists,’’ observed Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. “He’s a great player. I don’t want to take anything away from him, but when Ray Allen and Paul Pierce shoot the way they did, that’s where the assists are coming from.’’

It certainly was a majestic shooting exhibition by those drop-dead Hall of Famers.

“Shooting,’’ said Rivers, “makes everybody look good.’’

There’s no denying the accuracy of D’Antoni’s statement. Rondo’s assist totals, as do those of all contemporary players, benefit from the extraordinary long-range shooting of the modern players. The fact is there was no such thing as an assist on a long jumper in Bob Cousy’s day. (There was, of course, no 3-point shot at all.) So we need to put the assist totals in perspective.

But the fact is that, whatever the final assist total, as Rajon Rondo goes, so do the Boston Celtics. If he’s going to keep playing like this (and there is no one on the Miami Heat who is likely to slow him down), the Boston Celtics will become the proverbial tough out.

With Rondo, it’s a matter of tempo, of energy, and of judgment. When he is on his game, everyone benefits, Ray Allen most of all. This is Year 5 for Rondo, Year 4 with this core group. They have practically become prisoners of his whims.

When he was slogging through a series of inconsistent efforts in March and April, the team’s offense went in the dumper, so much so that starting with that awful home loss to the Clippers March 9, they averaged fewer points per game than any team in the league over the next four weeks.

It was rather evident that something was bothering him. Was it the loss of his friend, Kendrick Perkins? Let’s hope not. You give him a mulligan game, maybe two, to pout. After that, you remind him that he is a professional drawing a handsome paycheck and this won’t be the last time he will come into personal conflict with a business decision.

Whatever it was, he became a nightly mystery, bottoming out in the two biggest games of the stretch run, the embarrassing losses in Chicago and Miami. He needed to snap out of it once the playoffs began. And he has.

He is not the best point guard in the league, and never will be until he becomes a) more reliable with his jumper and b) at least a 75 percent free throw shooter. But he is making progress in both areas.

But if he’s not the best point guard in the league, he is certainly the most unusual. Forget about historical stylistic comparisons, because there are none. It’s a unique physical package, for sure, and it may even be a unique mental makeup, as well. There is an element to his game and his demeanor that is almost mystical. He sees things few others do and he has enormous confidence.

Doc Rivers is still trying to figure him out. What he does know is that he likes what he’s seeing right now. Rajon Rondo is giving the Celtics exactly what they need, exactly when they need it.

“I can ask less minutes,’’ Doc said. (Rondo is averaging 42 in the series). “That was a lot of minutes for him.

“He was terrific. His rebounding, his assists. To me, his play calling [was outstanding] tonight.

“He got himself into a rhythm. He got us into a rhythm. It allows us coaches to get into a rhythm because we see the game through him, which is a lot better.’’

After Rondo had disposed of all D’Antoni’s point guards, the Knicks mentor assigned the task to the 6-foot-9-inch Jared Jeffries, whose approach was to stand about 10 feet away and hope Rondo would shoot jumpers.

“That’s what the Lakers like to do,’’ said Rondo. “That’s OK. It lets me see the passing lanes better.’’

Right now, Rajon Rondo is seeing everything. He is doing pretty much everything he wants. And I’m sorry. The coach may be a bit blasé about it, but a 15-11-20 triple-double definitely gets my attention.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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