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Time for Rondo to channel his emotions

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 4, 2012 07:35 AM

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Come to think of it, Rajon Rondo always has had a rather sizable chip on his shoulder. Hopefully, he has learned a rather valuable lesson.

Make it work for you, Rajon.

Not against.

"I try not to let my emotions get the best of me, but I'm an emotional player," Rondo told reporters Thursday as the Celtics prepared for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Atlanta Hawks. "I try to keep my composure and my emotions to myself, but it was a heat-of-the-battle moment and I wanted to win. We make mistakes. I'm not on trial, or anything."

Actually, Rajon, you are on trial. Such is the life of a professional athlete in this day and age, particularly in Boston, where we expect the best of the best to be intense yet mature, gifted yet hard-working, confident yet humble. Mistakes are allowed, to be sure. But getting yourself suspended for Game 2 of this playoff series was a colossal error in judgment with potentially enormous repercussions.

An exaggeration? Hardly. Take a good look at the Eastern Conference at the moment. Derrick Rose is out. Dwight Howard is out. All that stands between the Celtics and another trip to the Finals during this latest era in team history is a potential matchup with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, and we all know how the Celtics fared against Miami during the final weeks of the regular season.

If Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce haven't already missed their final chance at a title, you nearly made sure of it.

Deep down, Rondo himself knows this, which is why, according to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, Rondo waited at the team bus and thanks his teammates as they boarded their way back to Boston for Game 3. Whether Rondo expresses that type of contrition and gratitude publicly hardly matters. But those certainly sound like the actions of a contrite and grateful man, which is really all anyone should want.

What we should all want now is for Rondo to get right back on that line he indisputably crossed in Game 1, when he bumped referee Marc Davis and earned himself a one-game suspension. The Celtics have the Hawks right where they want them now with the next two games to be played at the TD Garden. And with Hawks forward Josh Smith now questionable for duty in Game 3, it is incumbent for the Celtics to do what the Hawks failed to do.

Grab the throat of your opponent.

And squeeze.

By now, we all know the story with Rondo. The petulance. The immaturity. The stubbornness. And the skill. We can all continue to debate Rondo's true value to the Celtics, his viability as a franchise-type player given his shooting deficiencies, his worth on the trade market. But with these Celtics at this particular point in time, Rondo will have increasing value if and when the Celtics advance to the later rounds of these playoffs.

A championship? No one should be talking about that just yet. But take a good look at the remaining teams in the Eastern Conference and ask yourself this question: is there anyone out there, including the Heat, who has a better point guard than the Celtics do? Rondo is a mismatch in any series the Celtics will play before the Finals, which is why it would be interesting to see how the Heat would approach him if and when the time comes. (Dwyane Wade? LeBron James?)

On April 10, after all, Rondo was instrumental in the Celtics' 115-107 win at Miami, a game in which Rondo had 18 points and 15 assists to go along with four rebounds. Statistically, Rondo has had better games during his Celtics career. But the Rondo of that day showed little reluctance to take -- and make -- jump shots, including one 3-pointer, that prove critical on a day when the Celtics shot a whopping 60.6 percent from the field.

The Heat, undoubtedly, will challenge Rondo to repeat that trick if and when the time comes. And if he can do so with even moderate success, how the Heat defend him (and the Celtics) could change dramatically in the series.

For now, of course, the focus remains on the Hawks, who are younger and more athletic than the Celtics. (Isn't everyone?) The scheduling lords were kind enough to give the Celtics two days off between Games 2 and 3, a break that allows the older members of this team to recharge. Rondo should be as fresh as ever entering Game 3, of course, and the goal for the Celtics now should be to rub out the Hawks as quickly as possible, minimizing any tread or wear on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

No one is expecting the Celtics to win the championship this year, of course, but they are certainly positioned to make one more entertaining run in what is a deteriorating Eastern Conference.

Keep your head, Rajon.

And don't foul it up.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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