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Celtics Notebook

Rondo did just famously

Point guard’s play speaks for itself

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 25, 2011

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NEW YORK — It was nothing Rajon Rondo hadn’t heard before.

It would be hard to find a point guard in the NBA who doesn’t think Rondo’s lucky to be surrounded by future Hall of Famers.

But just as Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni made some not-so-flattering comments, he practically could taste his foot in his mouth the second he finished his sentence.

Asked for his impression of Rondo after the Celtics point guard sprayed around a franchise playoff-record 20 assists in Game 3 Friday night, D’Antoni was too cheeky for his own good.

“I’d like to see him play in Minnesota and see how he does,’’ D’Antoni said.

Rondo had no clue what D’Antoni said while putting together a 21-point, 12-assist outing in the Celtics’ 101-89 series-clinching win yesterday.

When he learned of D’Antoni’s opinion, Rondo smirked.

“That’s one man’s opinion,’’ Rondo said.

His shaky shooting touch makes him an easy target, but yesterday Rondo knocked down 8 of 12 field goal attempts (he also went 5 of 11 from the stripe). He averaged 19 points and 12 assists for the series, shooting 50 percent from the field.

Afterward, D’Antoni couched his previous statement.

“Everybody is tied together and they have three Hall of Famers out there,’’ D’Antoni said. “Rondo is a very good basketball player — really good. But if you look at their team you have to say, ‘What can we take away? What do we have to give them and play the odds?’

“You have to give [Rondo] his shot and you have to try to close up the middle on him and that’s kind of how we did it. We think that’s the best way to go. Nothing might work because they’re that good.’’

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Rondo isn’t necessarily a product of the players around him, but the stigma won’t leave him until they do.

“You play with those guys, that’s probably what you’re going to get,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t think he would trade it. He enjoys playing with them. But if there’s a negative side, that would be it: No matter how well you play, the question will be [there]. Someday that’ll be answered, too. I’ve got a feeling he’ll answer them all in the way he’s answered them now.’’

“When he’s playing at the top of his game, we’re tough to beat,’’ Paul Pierce said. “That just shows you how important he is to our team.’’

Passing praise The Celtics beat the Knicks eight times this season (not counting two preseason wins) and over their four playoff games, the Knicks led for all of 1 minute, 7 seconds.

Still, the Celtics walked away with a large measure of respect for a team they dominated.

“You know, we really didn’t know what to expect from them,’’ Pierce said. “We beat them over the course of the regular season. Even though we won four games, they earned our respect.

Amar’e [Stoudemire] playing with a bad back. Carmelo [Anthony] giving his all. We know they were shorthanded not having Chauncey [Billups]. We know they were dealing with some ailments. But they definitely earned our respect and they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with.’’

Big impression The Celtics banked on either Jermaine O’Neal or Shaquille O’Neal being healthy for the postseason. Jermaine was the only one healthy enough to play in the first round, and he wound up leaving his fingerprints on some of the series’ key moments.

His 12 points in Game 1 were momentum-shifting. His six rebounds yesterday helped the Celtics control the glass. He averaged 2.5 blocks for the series.

“I can make guys second-guess their ability to get to the cup,’’ O’Neal said. “You almost see guys just looking when I’m there.’’

The Celtics will take today and tomorrow off, and like most of his teammates, O’Neal will use them to heal after averaging 23 minutes per game in the series.

“It’s been a rough year,’’ O’Neal said. “To be out there and feel comfortable and be out there late in games, getting a feel has been good for me. It may not always show up on the stat sheet, but I feel like I can really help this team on the defensive end.’’

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

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