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Rondo doesn't pass up opportunity to show growth

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 17, 2012 10:39 AM

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Whenever the best-point-guards-in-the-NBA debate -- a polarizing topic that raises voices at barbershops, office cubicles and places of bibulousness while turning the closest of friends into intellectual combatants -- is conducted, the strongest point made against Rajon Rondo in comparison to his peers is his lack of consistent points.

Rondo's contemporaries like Chris Paul (the man he was nearly traded for), Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker not only have to deliver the ball, but deliver points on a nightly basis for their teams to succeed. It's non-negotiable that if those guys don't score consistently their teams can't win.

Playing with three future Hall of Famers, Rondo's scoring has been a luxury, not a necessity. His shortcomings as a shooter muted by the Celtics' acclaimed trio. Feeding both the ball to and the egos of the Big Three has been his primary job.

But that has changed in these playoffs, and it certainly changed Wednesday night in the Celtics' 107-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. With Paul Pierce diminished by a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and Ray Allen playing on a gimpy ankle, suddenly it has become incumbent upon Rondo to score.

With Pierce previously struggling in the series and at the start of Game 3, missing his first six shots, the Celtics needed Rondo to pick up the scoring slack. He grabbed the rope and tied the 76ers in knots with daring drives to the basket that made you think they should change the name of H-O-R-S-E to R-O-N-D-O.

Rondo submitted 23 points, 14 assists, and 6 rebounds with just one turnover. He shot 9 of 16 from the field, and most impressive was a perfect 4 for 4 from his personal waterloo -- the free-throw line.

A restive Rondo confronted the challenging of scoring like he did that hapless camera man in Atlanta.

"Teams dictate their defense by trying to play off of Rondo," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "When Rondo becomes an offensive threat then Kevin [Garnett] becomes a better offensive player. Ray and Paul are better offensive players because you can't spend the game trying to help off him.

"I thought he really set the tone for us."

What we are witnessing is the evolution of Rondo. Still only 26, he is like a tree that is growing and sprouting branches in new directions.

In Game 3, he wasn't facilitating and occasionally overpassing. He was dictating and totally taking over. Rondo scored 13 of the Celtics' 28 first-quarter points on 5 of 8 shooting.The NBA's assist champion registered only one in the first -- and it was a good thing.

Rondo scored 11 straight points for the Celtics in the first quarter. That bought time for Pierce to awake from his slumber and slam home a pair of dunks late in the quarter in a 25-second span that ignited both the Captain (24 points and 12 boards) and the Celtics.

"Offensively, Rondo really carried a great part of the load, and [KG] did also," said Pierce.

Rondo doled out five assists in the first half to go along with 17 points, tying him with Garnett, who finished with a team-high 27 points, for the team lead at the half.

But then in the third quarter, when the Celtics pulled away, Rondo turned back into an adept distributor with six assists in the quarter. It was a masterful performance. The Celtics shot 65 percent in the second quarter, and then followed that up with a 62.5-percent third quarter (10 of 16).

Games like these are more impressive than the triple-doubles for Rondo. The triple-doubles play to his established strengths -- rebounding and passing. He's always going to fill up a stat sheet with numbers like it's a Dow Jones stock ticker.

At times in the past, Rondo has been a timid shooter, but in these playoffs he has shot the ball without hesitation and with conviction. He might have been too eager to score in the clutch at the end of Game 2, as he appeared to wave off an open Allen.

Using his man as a free safety is now perilous strategy. Rondo scored 20 or more points eight times during the 66-game regular season. He has done it three times in eight playoff games.

Those are games that give us a glimpse of the future, that show he can take the baton from the Big Three. They're the games that show that Rondo can be more than an All-Star point guard. He is capable of being the focal point of a franchise.

Triple-doubles are like shiny trinkets at an antiques store. They catch the eye, but they're not necessarily the most valuable items on the shelves.

Even in Game 1 of this series, the most significant part of Rondo's play wasn't his triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists). It was that after going 3 of 9 in the first three quarters, Rondo didn't shy away from shots LeBron James-style. He shot 3 of 6 in the fourth quarter, canning two jumpers from 18-feet and another from 19-feet.

The two best games Rondo has played in the playoffs thus far weren't his two triple-doubles. They're the 20-point, 16-assist outing he had against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 4 of the first-round, a game in which six of the eight field goals he made came from 18-feet and beyond, and Wednesday night's tour de force.

Both Rondo and the Celtics had something to prove to the 76ers after a pair of one-point games on the parquet.

"Obviously we had two close games at home, and we wanted to show these guys and send a message tonight, and I think we did a pretty good job of that," said Rondo.

Rondo sent a message of his own, not just to Philadelphia, but to the rest of the league that the days of playing him as just a pass-first point guard have passed.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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