WALTHAM - Near the end of the Celtics' 103-102 win over Atlanta Wednesday night, Rajon Rondo attempted two open shots from the corner in front of the Boston bench. He converted the first from just inside the 3-point line at the shot-clock buzzer, then sent an airball over the rim on the second try. Those attempts symbolize Rondo's shooting this season - he has mostly been effective driving the lane, but inconsistent on anything from 15 feet or so away.
In fact, Rondo is second on the Celtics in field goal percentage (.532) and second to last in free throw percentage (.543).
"It's something he has to work on, and he'll get better," coach Doc Rivers said. "I'm more concerned we shoot free throws better as a team. But we want the ball in [Rondo's] hands to make plays. And if you can't shoot foul shots, it's tough to have you in late in the game.
"Teams know us now, and they are giving him shots - clearly they are doing it more this year. He has to step up and make those shots. He just has to keep shooting them."
Rondo will face a difficult challenge against Denver point guard Chauncey Billups when the Celtics meet the Nuggets tonight.
"He is one of the best point guards in the league," Rondo said. "I'll have to be more aggressive and make him play defense. My whole mentality this season is to try to be aggressive."
Against Atlanta, Rondo's marksmanship was off (2 for 8 from the field, 1 for 4 from the foul line), but his choreographing was on (10 assists, including two lobs for spectacular finishes by Kevin Garnett).
"I'm not concerned about them," Rondo said of his free throw shooting. "I'll just get to the line and they are going to come."
Rondo's take on being the preferred shooting option for opposing teams: "It happened all last year, so I don't think much has changed. I don't mind taking the shot. I've been doing it all my life. You've got to play basketball - if you have a good shot, they leave you wide open, take the shot, take it with confidence. A lot of it is being confident. You have to take the shot in any situation, if the shot clock is running down or whatever the situation might be."
Rondo, 22, became one of the youngest starting point guards ever on an NBA champion last season. He compensated for his lack of experience with a strong all-around game.
"It's all part of the game - if you are versatile, it makes the team better," he said.
The Celtics' offense is going to be in Rondo's hands this season. Last season, they brought in Sam Cassell to complement and mentor Rondo. This season, Cassell has yet to be activated, serving as an unofficial assistant coach.
"I have a different style of play from Sam," Rondo said. "Sam doesn't beat you with quickness, he beats you mentally and putting himself in a situation to make plays. I'm sure I'll learn how to do that."
Rivers called off practice yesterday after half an hour, several players concluding the workout with shooting drills, some reserves playing a half-court scrimmage. "We stretched and talked about things we can do better," Rivers said. "The stretch we're going through, you want to save their legs. So many little things happened in the game [against Atlanta], I wanted to talk about it." . . . Paul Pierce scored the deciding field goal against Toronto in a 94-87 win Monday, scoring 8 of the Celtics' last 10 points over the final 98 seconds. He scored the final 7 points in the final 97 seconds against Atlanta, including the winner with 0.5 seconds on the clock. "[Pierce] has been good every night," Rivers said. "We're winning games. He's made big shots his whole career. But when you're playing on teams a little better than .500 or a little worse than .500, people don't take notice."