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On basketball

Rondo leads the way, as adventure continues

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / May 5, 2012
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Amazingly, Rajon Rondo’s 20th career triple-double was hardly his best performance. In addition to his 17 points, 14 rebounds, and 12 assists, he also missed 15 shots, and he was so skittish about the approaching Jason Collins on his breakaway layup - sort of like a rhinoceros chasing a gazelle - that he botched the shot, looking like he had been felled by a hunter.

Friday night was an adventure for Rondo, but again it encapsulated his entire six-year career with the Celtics. His return from a one-game suspension for chest-bumping official Marc Davis was going to be nothing short of exciting. He was a busy bee during the Celtics’ 90-84 overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.

He was sticking his stinger everywhere, mostly making good things happen, but sometimes injecting himself too much into the Celtics’ offensive game plan.

He launched 22 shots, his most since Feb. 15, as the Hawks practically sent him an Evite to take the open jumper. He was aggressive, slicing toward the basket and taking advantage of his size advantage against Jeff Teague.

Rondo scored 5 of the Celtics’ 10 points in overtime, finally regaining that offensive confidence that he showed the past two months. While a few years ago, he would have been lambasted by his teammates for the volume of shot attempts, they were comfortable with his aggression, understanding that his improvement is ongoing, although meticulous.

Afterward, Rondo didn’t apologize for his Game 1 antics, but definitely wasn’t as brash as Thursday when he appeared defiant about his ejection and suspension. If the Celtics are going to make any type of extended playoff run, they need Rondo in his mature and passionate state.

They need him to remain aggressive, regardless of how many runners or jumpers he misses. And they need him to remain collected and focused as he was Friday.

“I felt good about all the shots that I took, I took a lot. My teammates told me to stay aggressive,’’ said Rondo, who made 7 of 22. “I missed a lot of easy layups, but the jump shots I usually try to take at the midrange game. I accomplished them, I took them, but I missed them.

“There’s going to be nights like tonight where I miss a lot of shots, but I try to continue to fight through, continue to grind and get the win for my team.’’

Of course no critical Celtics game would go without an entertaining exchange between teacher (Doc Rivers) and pupil (Rondo).

Rivers believed Rondo was being too unselfish - it was 26th consecutive game with double-digit assists - but still wanted him to cohesively run the offense. That was a challenge. The Celtics were as awful offensively in the halfcourt as they had been all season, despite Rondo’s attempting to distribute the ball to his teammates.

In the first half, he scored 2 points with 5 assists and 5 turnovers as the Celtics clung to a 40-38 lead. The Celtics attempted 15 fewer shots than the Hawks in the first half and were being saved by free throw attempts.

“[A point guard gets] mixed up sometimes, executing, running the stuff,’’ Rivers said. “Sometimes for them that means not being aggressive.

“And it’s funny, we had an exchange in the third or fourth quarter. I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be aggressive,’ and he said, ‘Well, I thought you wanted me to run the stuff.’ And I said, ‘Yeah. And be aggressive. You have to do both at the same time.’ And then finally I told him, ‘Just be a scorer. Just attack.’ And I thought that freed him up a little bit.’’

The Celtics desperately need Rondo to produce in this series because they have no answer for Teague, who tallied 23 points with 6 assists and 4 rebounds in 47 minutes, slicing the Celtics with dribble penetration. While Rondo was assigned mostly to Kirk Hinrich, Teague had little trouble getting into the paint against Avery Bradley, who gives away perhaps a half-step of speed.

Mysteriously Teague attempted just one shot in overtime, as he continuously fed the ball to Joe Johnson, who couldn’t save the Hawks after falling behind 86-82 after two Rondo buckets and a Paul Pierce jumper. Atlanta coach Larry Drew took the game out of Teague’s hands down the stretch while Rivers put even more faith in Rondo in the extra period.

All was forgiven from Game 2. Rondo knew he allowed his emotions to spiral out of control at the worst possible time in Game 1, but memories are short in Boston. That was three long days ago.

“He was really upset that he didn’t play in Game 2 and we knew he was going to come back strong. He has that type of personality,’’ Pierce said. “He just willed a great game, probably didn’t shoot as well as he’d like to.

“He did everything you can ask for from your point guard, especially with him feeling so bad for missing Game 2.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.

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