- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The near triple-double barely even raises eyebrows in these parts any more. Rajon Rondo quietly scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, dished out 13 assists, and grabbed a team-high six rebounds over 37 minutes Friday night. Ho-hum, just another day at the office.
In fact, Celtics coach Doc Rivers raved almost exclusively about Rondo's game management on a night his assist total was below his season average (a league-best 13.4 per game). Put another way: Rondo's had 13 games with more than 13 assists this season, so it's only when that number soars towards the 20 region that many take notice.
“Just his control of the game; Seeing what I see," Rivers said when asked about what he looks for out of Rondo. "There were a couple things he saw [Friday] that I didn’t see and I liked what he saw better. We went with it and those are good nights for a coach, I can tell you that, when those nights happen. It’s just the flow of the game; Sometimes guys get that and sometimes they don’t. But when he gets it, it’s really good because we can establish a pace. I told him at halftime, our pace was horrible. And the second half it was great.”
The fact that Boston shot 62.1 percent (18 of 29 overall) in the second half (including 66 percent in the final frame) proved that. Four different starters, all but Glen Davis, scored 10 points or more in the second half alone, while those players combining to shoot 72 percent (13 of 18 overall) over the final two quarters.
"Doc didn't like our pace [in the first half]," said Rondo. "We fouled a lot throughout the entire game, but first half, I think they shot like 14 or 15 free throws to our two or three, so you can't get a pace if you're taking the ball out of bounds every time."
That pace was certainly aided by the easy buckets generated in a little two-man game with Rondo and Shaquille O'Neal. Rondo generated some drives to the rim in the second half and, when the defense started collapsing on him, he was able to feed O'Neal for easy buckets.
"I think we always had chemistry," said Rondo. "He was just open tonight. It seemed like he was open every time I went to the hole. Either Kwame [Brown] or Nazr [Mohammed] stepped up, and you can't miss him."
Added Shaq: "It helps a lot when he’s out there looking for me. He’s played well. It’s my job; When I get the ball I have to finish, whether it's the lob or a little drop off.”
One off-target lob buy Rondo nearly got Brown flattened by a soaring (and then splashing) Shaq in the second half. Rondo soon smoothed out the kinks, handing out four third-quarter assists before looking for his own shot more in the final frame, scoring eight points by hitting both shots he attempted (including a 3-pointer and a clutch elbow jumper).
As for Rondo's health (he's missed a total of 11 games due to foot, ankle, and hamstring ailments), he deemed himself in serviceable shape.
"[I've still got] plantar fasciitis and my ankle's not 100-percent better, but I felt great tonight," said Rondo.
--ON THIS NIGHT, THEY WERE BENCHCOOLERS--
One game after combining for a whopping 56-point output during Wednesay's breezy triumph over the Sacramento Kings, Boston's four-man reserve unit labored Friday night, generating a mere nine points on 3-of-15 shooting (Marquis Daniels the only player to make multiple shots).
But Rivers didn't seem concerned, particularly considering the shorthanded nature of the bench, which was further hindered with Semih Erden plagued by early foul trouble. Rivers was more concerned about multiple stops than multiple makes.
"What I told the bench in the third quarter is, ‘If you don’t score a point, the lead can’t change,'" said Rivers. "Meaning, get stops, every time. Because we’ve got a lot of guys with offensive minds on the second unit and if they’re not making shots, then all of a sudden they can’t defend any more because, mentally, they’re still down on the offensive end. That’s what we just keep working on with them; They’re getting better at it.”
As Rondo surmised: "There's going to be nights when they carry us and vice versa. We got the win, so it doesn't matter if they scored or not. They did a great job defensively, and they didn't give up a big lead."
--LOOSE BALLS: SEMI-FOUL ATTIRE; BRADLEY'S D-LEAGUE DEBUT--
* Coming off a solid effort in place of injured Jermaine O'Neal on Wednesday, Erden might have been better off resting his sore groin Friday night. Despite playing through the pain that kept him out of practice Thursday, Erden picked up three fouls in three minutes during the first quarter and spent much of the night glued to the bench in a game where Boston really needed available big men. Erden finished with no points, missing the only shot he took, while collecting five fouls over 8:24.
Rivers didn't want to pin the effort on the groin injury.
"I didn't ask [about the injury], honestly," said Rivers. "If a guy is playing, he's healthy. Listen, they don't care on the other team. If you're out on the floor, I don't want to hear about it, because neither does the other team."
* In his NBA D-League debut Friday in Maine, Celtics rookie Avery Bradley registered 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting with six assists, two rebounds,and two steals over 21:36 off the pine as the Red Claws fell to the Erie Bayhawks, 123-109. The Celtics, despite being shorthanded by injuries, sent Bradley down earlier in the day to gain extra on-court reps with limited playing time in recent contests.