A few pieces of enjoyable reading on the “re-emergence” of the Celtics point guard around the Internet this morning, while Boston enjoys a well deserved two days off from practice, before hitting the practice floor again Wednesday. For those wondering, it’s almost certain the Celtics will open up their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Heat next Sunday at 3:30 on ABC as long as Miami takes care of business in Game 5 Wednesday night. Now onto the well deserved praise:
Paul Flannery of WEEI.com:
All around the cramped and joyless interview room in the bowls of Madison Square Garden, reporters raised their eyebrows and began working their fingers and thumbs on their mobile devices. Really? Mike D’Antoni went there?
“I’d like to see him play in Minnesota and see how he does,” D’Antoni said. The him in question was Rajon Rondo, and to be fair D’Antoni added that he thought Rondo was a good player. “Really, really good,” in fact. Too late.
There was tremendous irony in D’Antoni’s sarcastic aside. Rondo was the player the Timberwolves wanted along with Al Jefferson in the Kevin Garnett trade. Their insistence on including him in the deal held up the transaction for a time, but Celtics president Danny Ainge held firm, and the C’s wound up dealing Sebastian Telfair instead.
Additionally, Rondo was acquired as Phoenix’ first-round draft choice when D’Antoni was the coach there and the Suns were in the business of selling off first-round picks like a day trader selling junk stocks for quick cash. One more bit of history: The team that had the selection immediately ahead of Phoenix? The Knicks, who chose the immortal Renaldo Balkman.
In reality, D’Antoni didn’t say anything that a lot of people haven’t thought at one time or another, and it really boils down to an even simpler question: Just how good is Rajon Rondo really?
The Celtics are done answering those questions. They have lived with him for the last five seasons and they know just how important he is to their overall success even if his funky floor game doesn’t always translate into huge stat lines.
“I’m not answering that,” Paul Pierce said dismissively. “Next question.” To which Rondo added simply, “Everyone has their own opinion.”
The whole notion of disrespect has long been part of professional basketball. In this very arena, in another time, then-New York coach Jeff Van Gundy called Michael Jordan a “con man” for the way he would butter up opponents before tearing their hearts out.
Rondo has a bit of that cold-eyed killer in him, but he’s never expressed any interest in cozying up to his peers. That game doesn’t seem to interest him very much, and as to whether that sort of talk bothers him at all, even his own coach wasn’t sure. Or at least he wasn’t saying.
Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com:
The Knicks did their best to limit Rondo’s ability to get to the rim Sunday. He responded by making 4-of-5 layups. They sat back and challenged him to shoot jumpers and he responded by making 5-of-7 jump shots.
After New York rallied from 23 down to make it a two-possession game, the Knicks were staring at a six-point deficit with less than five minutes to play. They sagged and again challenged Rondo, who stepped up and canned a 13-foot jumper with 4:48 to go to push the lead back to eight. Next trip down, he fed Garnett for a 16-foot jumper and a double-digit lead.
“When [Rondo] plays with that type of energy, we are almost unstoppable,” Pierce said.
Glen Davis echoed those sentiments, pointing to Rondo’s emerging jumper.
“That’s huge for us, because guys are going to not respect Rondo as far as his jump-shot ability,” Davis said. “But now when you go through a series and when you go through the playoffs and you see that, you can’t just leave him wide open. You have to contest that. It’s hard to deal with our team because Rondo is just so electric. He’s just everywhere. He can make things happen from every aspect of the floor.”
Does it surprise Davis that teams still challenge Rondo?
“Well, somebody’s going to learn, you know?” he said. “Point blank.”
The Knicks learned. Their coach learned. Maybe it’s not the best idea to challenge the spunky 25-year-old point guard with a permanent chip on his shoulder.
All Rondo did this series was average 19 points while shooting 50 percent from the floor, and dish out 12 assists per game, which led to an average of 27.5 points per contest, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“He’s tough to guard and you’ve seen that all throughout this series,” Celtics reserve Jeff Green said. “And when he’s going strong, we go.”
Ah yes, the now-familiar adage: “As goes Rondo, so go the Celtics.” Mind you, that expression ignores all of the Big Three, but focuses on the player whom more and more observers are putting in their company as the “big four.”
Players and coaches around the league are learning Boston’s success is directly tied to the play of its point guard. And instead of wondering how good he’d be on another team, maybe coaches should spend their time trying to figure out how to slow him down.
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com on the Knicks earning respect?
The Celtics have plenty of tricks up their sleeves, and an uncanny sense of when to deploy them. There’s the Ray Allen dagger 3-pointer, the Rajon Rondo fake-wrap-around pass leading to a layup, the Paul Pierce step-back jumper, and the wide-open Kevin Garnett 17-footer from either wing.
Then, there comes a time for the cruelest trick of all: the congratulatory postseason kiss-off, which Pierce so deviously delivered to the Knicks on Sunday after sweeping them out of the playoffs.
You know how it goes by now, or should. The Celtics have been doing this for four years, crushing dreams and decimating franchises so often they have perfected it. First came the hugs on the Madison Square Garden court as the final seconds ticked away Sunday in a 101-89 victory over the Knicks. Then came the faux praise — the great-job-now-get-out-of-the-way pats on the back from the interview podium. It’s a diabolical drill, a skill sharpened by much practice and success.
“You didn’t know what to expect from them,” Pierce said after the Celtics became the first participant to advance to what is expected to be an epic conference semifinals series with Miami by drop-kicking the Knicks out of the way in a first round sweep. “Even though we beat them four games, they earned our respect.”
Sure. The way LeBron James twice earned their respect on his way out of the postseason at the ruthless hands of the Celtics, and the way Kobe Bryant and the Lakers did by losing to Boston in the 2008 Finals. On this great run during the Big Three era, the Celtics have given the same atta boys to Dwight Howard and the Magic (2010 conference finals) and Dwyane Wade and the Heat (2010 first round). This is the second time Chauncey Billups has been bounced by Boston, although this time he was on the bench in a suit instead of on the court with the Pistons.
The list of teams and players who have “earned” the Celtics’ respect reads like a who’s-who of NBA royalty. After spending their first few years in the Western Conference, this was the first taste of Boston’s bitter medicine for the Knicks’ star duo of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
“You’ve got to take steps backwards sometimes to move forward,” Anthony said on his long walk out of the Garden on Sunday — a walk toward a future that is on him to determine.