Rondo jumped at his chance
DALLAS — In a moment of failure, Rajon Rondo took a major step forward as a leader and a franchise point guard.
The scouting report on Rondo is brutally honest. Leave him alone on the perimeter. If he hits three in a row, leave him alone. If he hits five, leave him alone.
It won’t change for a while, regardless of how much Rondo works on his most glaring weakness — his jump shot. In the waning seconds of the Celtics’ 89-87 loss last night at American Airlines Center, Rondo was left alone for a jump shot, the Mavericks using five defenders to check four Celtics.
Trailing by 2, Rondo held the ball standing at the 3-point line, his teammates staring at him. The Mavericks waited for his dribble penetration but realized he didn’t have enough time for an acrobatic shot.
He waited a few more moments, set his feet, and launched a 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left. The ball felt silky coming off his fingers, but like a fairway drive, it tailed to the right, clanging off the rim. Ray Allen gathered the rebound with 2.8 seconds left but Jason Terry intelligently fouled him as the Mavericks had one to give.
In reality, the game ended on Rondo’s miss. But the fact he attempted the 3-pointer was progress for a player who has sometimes tried to camouflage his detractors. During last year’s NBA Finals, when Rondo was struggling with his free-throw shooting, he curtailed his drives to the basket.
On countless occasions last season, Rondo passed on open jumpers, seeking refuge with a pass to a covered teammate. This year he is snapping those jumpers and burning defenses with his improved range. Rondo is years from being considered a 3-point shooter, but he is more comfortable with the long-range jumper than pundits believe.
Last night, he fell short in his bid to convert a rare game-winner, but the victory here is in the fortitude to try. No one uttered a word of criticism, only encouragement. The training wheels are officially off.
“He’s wide open,’’ forward Paul Pierce said. “He was open two or three seconds before he even took it. We were begging him to shoot it. Hey, we’ll take that, a wide open look. Rondo, he’s showed he can make those shots, especially under pressure situations. I take it. I told him after the game, I’ll take that shot.’’
There is still stubbornness in Rondo, a refusal to acknowledge his jumper is a weakness. That teams are blatantly inviting him to shoot is a sign of disrespect for his perimeter game. Teammate Jermaine O’Neal said recently that once Rondo develops a jumper, much like what has been said about Derrick Rose and about Jason Kidd 10 years ago, his game will be impeccable.
Rondo would like to think it’s impeccable now. The white elephant in his mental living room is that darn jumper. It’s improving, but it’s not yet there. It’s there in practice. It has been there during stretches this season, but until he knocks it down with consistency, he will be left alone.
“The options were all taken away and I was open and I took the shot,’’ he said. “I was open, so I am going to take it if they give it to me. I got a lot of confidence in it. I thought it was good. I got my feet set, got a good look.’’
Rondo’s older teammates have been trying to hand him the leadership reins of this team for the past year, and Rondo has accepted the challenge in terms of running the offense and initiating dribble penetration to create open spaces for teammates, but he has yet to appear completely comfortable with that jumper.
The Celtics are not going to win consistently when Rondo is one of the team’s scoring leaders, but they do need him to be more aggressive offensively. And last night he was, although his quest ended in disappointment.
It’s Game 8, and the Celtics nearly clipped a hungry, motivated Mavericks team despite playing the second game of a back-to-back. Dallas treated this game as if it were the NBA Finals, with motions and gyrations toward the crowd after big baskets and a bigger-than-usual celebration after a November win.
The Celtics took Dallas’s best shot and nearly survived. But this early season is as much about establishing roles and confidence as it is about winning. The next time, Rondo won’t hesitate to launch that 3-pointer and perhaps it will go down. But the Celtics have been begging Rondo to be more assertive with his shot, and he has reluctantly accepted the pleas.
“I have confidence in myself,’’ he said. “When my teammates have it in me, it’s always encouraging. I had a good look. It just didn’t go down.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.