Rajon Rondo has said he thinks he's at his best when he's rebounding the ball and looking up court to start the break, and he established a new career-high with 17 assists against the Pacers Wednesday night.
This may not be the advent of a Big Four, but with his first-career triple double, to the chagrin of the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night, this is shaping up to be the Year of the Rondo.
Putting a bold exclamation point on an All-Star worthy run, Rondo shredded the Indiana Pacers for 16 points, 13 boards, a career-high 17 assists and three steals in the Celtics' 114-96 victory. With the Celtics now in the midst of a 10-game win streak, there's little doubt that their third-year point guard has been the maestro.
"You thought last year he was good, he's just getting better," Paul Pierce said. "He's learning the game. He's learning his spots. He's learning what kind of potential he has and it's just fun to watch him grow."
Dropping dimes all over the Pacers' defense, Rondo was busy on the other end disrupting Indiana's offense. Darting around boxing-out Pacers, Rondo was collecting long rebounds and starting fast breaks in mid-air. Far too often for the Pacers' liking, those rebounds resulted in Ray Allen (31) and Kevin Garnett (26) points.
Though he still gets left open along the baseline, Rondo is forcing defenses to close out on him, not because of his jumper, but because of his vision. By the time he penetrated into the Indiana lane, the Celtics were all but guaranteed an open shot.
"He has his defender back on his heels," Allen said. "When he does that, they have to guard him, and sometimes it takes two or three guys. And that's when we inject ourselves in the game by finding open spots and getting easier shots."
In the halfcourt offense, Rondo had eyes for Garnett. Twice in the fourth quarter, Rondo lulled the defense into a daze as he casually walked along the wing, only to find a cutting Garnett for crowd-pleasing alley-oops. And it was a pass to Garnett that Rondo completed his triple-double, when, less than two minutes into the third, Rondo gathered an offensive rebound and swung it to KG for the bucket and the foul.
"It seemed like there was three Rondos out there tonight," Garnett said. "I looked up and he passed the ball to [Paul] and it came off the rim and he was rebounding it. Then all of a sudden I got back on defense and he had beat me back. Then, [Danny] Granger went to drive and he was there on the strip and we got loose and threw it up for a layup and he got the layup.
"I sort of had to turn around and was like...how many?...what is this boy?...he was everywhere tonight."
For as much noise as another point guard is making in New Jersey, Rondo has been putting up some of the most complete games this side of Texas. Celtics fans and players alike have relished in the maturation of Rondo, but it's important to remember that, at 22, he's still not there.
The only lasting blemish on Rondo's season has been his 62.8% shooting from the charity stripe. But a night like this, including 6-of-7 from the free-throw line, could turn out to be the remedy. And with Rondo now covering enough categories to warrant quadruple-double questions in postgame interviews, a few missed free-throws haven't been nearly enough to keep the Celtics out of the win column.
"It's not easy to do," Rondo said of the triple-double. "I've been so close a lot of games, and to finally get one, I'm excited about it.
"And most important, we got the win."