BOSTON — Prior to his season-high 29-point performance Friday night against the Celtics, former team captain Rajon Rondo admitted to the media that his defense hadn’t been there during the last two years of rebuilding in Boston.
While addressing a question about the Mavericks’ improved defense since his arrival in a trade in mid-December, Rondo acknowledged what many Celtics fans had seen lately: his defensive effort was not his focus most nights in green.
“I haven’t played defense in a couple of years,” Rondo explained. “I’ve been able to hide it a lot with Avery Bradley on the ball. He’s helped me out, the young guy. But here [in Dallas] they expect me to play defense. And in the West, if you don’t play defense you’ll get embarrassed every night at the point guard position. I took it as a challenge [for] myself.
“It’s not just me. It’s my teammates. Our communication is getting a lot better and our coverages are getting better. So it’s the whole team concept, it’s not just me. Obviously people are going to look at the stats and say, ‘Since Rondo’s came there, they’re down seven or eight points or whatever defensively.’ But we still have a lot of room to improve and I believe we’ll still get better defensively.”
Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens grinned when he heard about Rondo’s comments before Boston’s 118-101 loss Friday night, but declined to address them directly.
“I don’t know the context of the discussion,” he said. “I don’t know the seriousness of his answer. I don’t really have any reaction to that. He’s a really good player, and I’m certainly not here right now to be critical or analytical of his comments to the media. I think, like everybody else, I’m excited for him that he’s in a great opportunity and has a great opportunity in Dallas. I hope that we play well against him tonight.”
The shifts in the defensive numbers for both the Celtics and Mavericks in recent weeks appear to back up Rondo’s comments. Dallas has gone 5-2 since his arrival, in large part due to the sharp improvement in the team’s defensive rating [a metric that measures team defense] over those contests.
Dallas Mavericks Defensive Rating
Before Rondo’s arrival: 105.1 points per 100 possessions (28 games)
After Rondo’s arrival: 100.3 points per 100 possessions (7 games)
On the flip side, Boston’s own team defense has been a bit better since Rondo’s exit using the same measuring tools.
Boston Celtics Defensive Rating
With Rondo: 103.2 points per 100 possessions (22 games)
Without Rondo: 102.0 points per 100 possessions (7 games)
While both sides have moved on now, it’s fair to say Rondo’s motivation level has increased on the defensive end in his new home.
“I just want to win,” Rondo said Friday night. “I just want to win a championship. I’ve got to get to that feeling again and we have a great, talented group of guys in Dallas that I think we can do it, maybe one piece away.”