Rajon Rondo made his case for the All-Star team tonight. Three times over.
Rondo recorded the first triple-double of his young NBA career tonight against the Indiana Pacers, stuffing the stat sheet with 16 points, 17 assists, and 13 rebounds. When he was done, the Celtics had a 114-96 win over a team that beat them a month earlier, and Rondo had his campaign slogan: Triple threat.
How good was Rondo? He almost recorded a triple-double in the first half (he was one rebound and two assists shy), and might have accomplished the feat had he not gone to the bench with a fat lip 90 seconds into the game.
"You thought last year he was good," said Paul Pierce. "He’s just getting better."
It's easy to see why Pierce likes his young point guard. Rondo recited from memory the number of shots each of the Big Three got tonight. His goal, he says, is to put Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett in the best position to score.
"Just keeping everyone happy," said Rondo. "I create a lot of shots, but they create their own shots. They're great scorers. They've been making a lot of them over their entire career."
The play on which Rondo earned the triple-double was a prime example of his skill set. At the 10:07 mark in the third quarter, Rondo rebounded the ball on the offensive end and found Garnett for a layup, giving Rondo his 10th rebound and 10th assist all in the same motion. It's that kind of freakish athleticism that had a teenage Celtics fan piercing the TD Banknorth with screams on Rondo's way into the tunnel after the game.
"I told him last game, the way he asserts himself at the beginning of the game, he has his defender back on his heels," said Allen. "When he does that, they have to guard him, and sometimes it takes two or three guys."
Rondo also had this triple-double way back in high school, at Oak Hill Academy. He said he had 6 or 7 of them in high school, and one while he was at Kentucky. The last Celtic to have a triple-double was Ryan Gomes. Gomes had 10 points, 10 assists, and 12 rebounds in a 110-108 win over visiting Charlotte on Nov. 8, 2006.
About that All-Star game. Rondo has per game averages of 9.8 points, 7.2 assists (6th in the NBA), 4.2 rebounds, and 2.16 steals (4th in the NBA) in just 30 minutes of play per game. More importantly, he's the point guard of the conference's best team, which has to count for something.
Last year's Eastern Conference All-Star guards were Jason Kidd, Dwyane Wade, Chauncey Billups, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, and Joe Johnson. Wade is a lock this season, and Allen and Johnson should be. But Hamilton's numbers (16.1 points per game. 41 percent shooting) are down this season, and Billups and Kidd are gone to the Western conference. Allen Iverson is back in Detroit, and he'll make the team for sure, but the net result of all of this suggests there are at least two guard spots in the East up for grabs.
It wouldn't be a shock if Rondo snagged one of them, especially considering guys like Vince Carter, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, and Mo Williams are his competition on this year's ballot.
Allen (31 points, 11-of-18 shooting) had his highest scoring output of the season Wednesday night, but he deflected all praise of his own play and credited it to Rondo.
“I’m not guessing what he’s doing," Allen said of Rondo. "I know where he’s going with the ball on most of the plays, and I know where I need to be...It seems that Rondo and I go hand in hand."