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Celtics Notebook

Rondo aims for an A in ‘D’

Guard works to refine technique

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 18, 2009

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WALTHAM - By his own admission, Rajon Rondo would roll the dice more than a few times a night. He’d let the point guard get by him, then swipe at the ball from behind, trying to poke out a steal, or “back-tipping’’ as he put it.

“I used to be good for four, five, six of those a game,’’ Rondo said.

Sometimes they turned into highlights. Sometimes they turned into buckets the other way. This preseason, they have been scaled back. And that alone, said coach Doc Rivers, is what could be the next step in improving a point guard who already was second-team all-defense a year ago.

“I think he’s a better defender this year than he was last year by far because he’s doing more team things,’’ Rivers said. “He’s not gambling as much, he’s staying in front of the ball, he’s doing a fantastic job of getting over pick-and-rolls. That was one of his weak points last year. He would reach on pick-and-rolls instead of getting in front of the ball and squaring it up.’’

Trying to determine how well a point guard defends is less about how many points his man scores and more about what kind of position he allows his man to get.

“If that guard is in the paint causing havoc, whether he’s scoring or creating scoring, then our point guard’s not doing a good job,’’ Rivers said.

Ray Allen remembers practices when Rivers would point out the difference between Rondo playing up on his man and back.

“When he does it, he makes it tough for the guards, we end up getting steals, and it puts their offense into disarray,’’ Allen said. “So I think he’s at the point now where he’s ready to do it full-time.

“He looks strong on the ball. He provides a lot of intensity on the ball defensively and he’s very harassing of a defender. One thing he learned over the last year or two is taking possessions off defensively. He has the talent and the quickness to put pressure on his man every single time down the floor.’’

The Celtics have until Oct. 31 to offer Rondo an extension or he will become a restricted free agent in July. With two weeks left to come to an agreement, Rondo declined to talk about negotiations.

In a survey of general managers, Rondo was tapped as the fourth best as a perimeter defender and split with Kobe Bryant for the league’s best on-the-ball defender.

“That’s because they don’t coach,’’ Rivers joked. “Don’t get me wrong, Rondo is a fantastic defender, but he’s got a level to go and he can be a great, great defender and for him to do that he has to stay in front of the ball.’’

False start
No one thought his leg and ankle were healthy enough for him to play, but the feeling came over Tony Allen 10 minutes before the Celtics were supposed to tip off against the Knicks two Fridays ago.

“I just felt good,’’ Allen said. “The warm-up I did with Bryan Doo. The massage I had before. I felt good. I just felt like, ‘I need to give it a shot. See where I’m at.’ ’’

Moments before the tip, he talked to Rivers, who gave him the green light. Allen played eight minutes, and after that, the swelling started.

“Big time,’’ Allen said.

He hasn’t played in the three games since, dealing with inflammation and scar tissue in the ankle. He and Bill Walker (knee) will both miss the trip to Toronto today.

In the meantime, it’s more strengthening, more massages.

“They’ve just been wanting to keep me off it right now,’’ Allen said. “It was unfortunate that it swelled up on me afterward. It was aching pretty bad.

“I’m just focusing on trying to get this right. I know it’s going to take a little time, but I feel my body is in shape. I’ve got days for extra strengthening, extra conditioning, I feel good from that standpoint. It’s just an aching injury that they expected to be aching around this point.’’

Tale of the tape
The long black bars stuck to Ray Allen’s back, J.R. Giddens’s knee, and Kevin Garnett’s leg? That would be Kinesio, “The Most Trusted Name in Elastic Therapeutic Taping.’’ As for what it actually does, Rivers was at a loss. “I don’t know what the hell it does,’’ said Rivers, who was actually wearing it on his back. “But it makes me feel better. It’s not just the tape, they put it on certain muscles. Maybe it’s mental. Just like this [magnetic bracelet] here. A lot of teams are doing it, it’s been good. I know Kevin loves it, J.R. does it.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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