Friday 01st March 2024,
The Hoop Doctors

The Difference That Comes With a Rajon Rondo Game

Saturday night, we’ll find out who moves on to face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. If it turns out to be the Philadelphia 76ers, it will mean an especially unexpected upset, even for how tame the Boston Celtics have shown to be on any given night. Injuries and depth issues are taking their toll on the Celtics; most frightening, though, is when their offense goes off the rails as it did in Game Six. In segments or full games like that one, they do not make things easy on themselves enough times to lend support to the vast amount of outside jumpers they like taking.

Still, the Boston Celtics, at home, are supposed to win Game Seven on Saturday somehow. And it’s hard to imagine them doing it without Rajon Rondo having one of his Rajon Rondo games. You know the type: When Rondo’s performance snares almost every aspect of a singular game in its grasp; when the Boston offense is vibrant and dangerous; when the game has life, as dictated by Rondo himself. A Rajon Rondo game is different from any other game in the league in which the point guard is in control of the action; that’s what makes it such profound, stop-and-see basketball when it actually does happen.

Derrick Rose, when he’s right, of course, has his finger on the pulse of everything going on with the Chicago Bulls because that’s the best option for them by a wide margin. Russell Westbrook attacks in the same vain as Rose, but his whirling dervish wrecking ball methods are part of a set of freelance techniques used by the Oklahoma City Thunder to keep their opponents nauseated; plus, even when he isn’t trampolining into the paint, his menacing jowl still lurks on the perimeter, looking to disrupt at any moment.

There’s also the sometimes overlooked Tony Parker, a more traditional score-first point guard than Rose or Westbrook, but someone who can grab hold of a game using precision and smarts (I mean come on, it’s the San Antonio Spurs here). Parker seeks out and then exploits favorable match-ups on the floor, as few can deal with his quickness off the dribble, over and over again until a change is forced to be made; likely freeing up a teammate in the process. More traditional still is Chris Paul, the all-controlling Los Angeles Clippers frontman who methodically walks the ball up court, pries open a defense with a crowbar, gets a good look at the situation and makes a decisive, reflexive choice; before you can sometimes understand what happened, it’s already over. Paul is in control because he needs to be, but like Rose, even the obviousness, when spiked with sheer ability, makes nothing as easy to figure out as it seems.

The list of names and styles of various point men throughout the NBA could continue on, but it’s all to say: A game with Rajon Rondo firmly at the controls is peerless. In Game Six, Rondo was out of it. His stat line was forgettable and Paul Pierce even tried snapping him out of it on the sidelines with a pep talk/head slap, to no avail. Why he wasn’t there is too far a jump into Rondo’s mind for anyone, but when he’s not aggressively trying to make the game bend to his will, the Celtics are too often left to Paul Pierce fallaways and Kevin Garnett jumpers — good if they’re falling, yet still maybe not good enough with the paper-thin depth in Boston.

It’s these games though, the proverbial Game Sixes of Rondo’s career, that make him so special. When going through a game that he’s simply uneventful in, when he’s out there but not really, that’s when your high tolerance for Rondo being everywhere and meaning everything to a game enters your system. Because when Rondo does rise to the occasion, all-systems-go, it can still be absolutely shocking to watch in comparison. Not because it’s unexpected — especially in a Game Seven, many will be (or should be) tuning in to see what sort of damage Rondo will do to a scoresheet — but because of how much it is, and how much Rondo can fulfill.

Part of the Rondo mystique and his personal assertion of control over a game is that when it’s there, it’s there in full, and when it’s not, it’s a ghost. You don’t get a Rajon Rondo game every time because, well, then it wouldn’t be a Rajon Rondo game. In the end, what makes Rondo so riveting is that when he’s pulling the strings the Celtics don’t make sense any other way, and when he’s absent nothing about that changes — it’s either watching him take over or waiting for him to. That they’re so lost without him, in turn keeping the need for a signature Rondo game on high at all times, means there will probably never be enough triple-doubles to satisfy our souls. The fact that we’ll still want, and expect, more is the control Rondo has on everyone.

Griffin Gotta contributes to The Hoop Doctors and is a co-managing editor of Straight Outta Vancouver on SB Nation. The story arcs and infinite weirdness of the NBA are addictions he deals with every day. Email him at griffingotta at gmail dot com.

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