Rondo: A rested development
Rare bench time sign of team depth
WALTHAM - Rajon Rondo will seldom be on the Celtics’ bench in the final quarter with games on the line this season, although he sat out the final quarter of an 86-76 victory at New Jersey Saturday night.
“We won, there was no need for me to go back in,’’ said Rondo. “Eddie [ House] was doing a great job running the team, so there was no need for me to go back in. It was a close game, as well. It wasn’t like it was a blowout. I didn’t play in the fourth, but it shows how deep we are as a team.’’
Rondo leads the league with 3.1 steals per game, but said he is concentrating on straight-up defending.
“Steals are not necessarily [good] defense,’’ Rondo said. “A lot of times it’s a bad pass.’’
Rondo will be matched with Utah’s Deron Williams tomorrow night when the Celtics host the Jazz.
“Keep in front of him,’’ Rondo said of his strategy to defend Williams. “Every night it’s a tough matchup. Eight games so far and every night it hasn’t been anything easy. Every night I’ve got to bring it.’’
Rondo has been balancing his instincts of self-preservation with what is considered textbook defending of staying between his man and the basket.
“It’s a little bit of discipline,’’ he said. “When you have so many pick and rolls it’s going to be so many different looks. It’s tough to get through a lot of pick and rolls. You may go through 50 pick and rolls in a particular game and you’ve got to think about the contact it has on your body, the wear and tear. When you’ve got a guy coming at you full speed on a fast break, it’s a difficult thing.
“I just try to be solid. I’ve been getting steals but I’ve just got to keep working on being solid.’’
“Our pick-and-roll defense was really slipping, that’s why you need to practice,’’ Rivers said. “We have new guys, and down the stretch in games, that’s when it really shows.’’
The Celtics also worked on foul shooting and late-game half-court play execution. The Celtics have a .736 free throw percentage while compiling a 7-1 record.
“I’m always concerned about free throws,’’ Rivers said. “We just have to become a better free throw shooting team. We’re a good free throw shooting team and we’re not making them right now. A lot of that is fatigue, too. Especially the last three games, our percentage has gone down, and that probably has to do with fatigue. It has to do with no practice, with guys who need to work.
“I think individually you can [improve], slowly . . . It’s too early to look at the stats. You just work on it.’’
Rivers said the team’s perimeter shooting was also affected by playing eight games in 12 days. The Celtics played five games in four cities last week.
“The last three games we were spent but we got through it,’’ Rivers said. “I kept telling the guys, ‘I know you’re tired but let’s not use it as an excuse for losing.’ And they didn’t. I thought they fought through it.
“That’s where the jump shots showed, the last three games showed. We couldn’t make jumpers any more because we had no legs. A lot of the shots were front rim. Everyone is going to go through a stretch like that. Unfortunately for us, we started the year off with a stretch like that. I’d always rather have that stretch in middle of the season, but we didn’t have a choice.’’
Rasheed Wallace is 17 for 50 on 3-pointers, missing his last 10.
“I have no problem with it,’’ said Rivers. “Our record is 7-1 and Rasheed is a big reason for that because he is taking a ‘5’ out to the 3-point line. And, when Ray [ Allen] and Paul [ Pierce] are working down low, or Kevin [ Garnett] or Perk [Kendrick Perkins], there’s nobody out there. I don’t mind that at all. Obviously, we want to keep mixing it up, but shooting is a big factor for us. I like what we’re doing. We’re causing teams miserable problems trying to defend because we’re spreading the floor.
“But I do agree that we’ve got to get to the line. When you get to the line, the more you shoot them the better.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com