- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- At this point it's the worst-kept secret in the Boston Celtics' locker room: Rajon Rondo adores the big stage and produces some of his finest efforts under the glare of the national spotlight.
He just doesn't like to admit it. Fortunately, the stats -- and his teammates -- can't lie.
Rondo registered 16 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds as part of his 18th career triple-double in Sunday's 91-72 triumph over the Miami Heat at TD Garden. It's his 14th triple-double on national television (six have come in postseason play) and three of his five this season have come as part of the "NBA Sunday Showcase" on ABC, against the Heat, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks.
"We're just going to tell him we're playing on ABC every day," Celtics coach Doc Rivers quipped.
Heck, if this keeps up, Boston might want to consider a national TV partner for its next deal. After all, Rondo has whispered to a teammate or two about being a little extra amped when the world is watching.
"You see how y'all got these cameras on me? Rondo likes these cameras," Brandon Bass said with a big smile. "Every TV game, he really steps it up."
Bass is just giddy to be playing with a point guard like Rondo. He's been witness to six of Rondo's career triple-doubles -- including being on the wrong side of a 2009 game while he was with the Dallas Mavericks.
Now Bass is benefitting from all those slick passes from Rondo. With 14 assists on Sunday, Rondo has reached double digits in helpers in each of his past 13 games (and 16 of the last 18). He broke Bob Cousy's 56-year-old record for assists in a month in March, and did it in five fewer games than Cousy needed back in January 1956.
"Point guard, man. Point guard. That's what he do," said Bass, sounding like a Rondo promoter. "That's what he told me a couple days ago -- that's what he gets paid to do, be a point guard, man. He's been playing well. I'm happy I'm on this side."
So, come on, Rondo. Fess up. You love the big stage.
"I think my teammates put a spotlight on me more than the media or the televised games," he said. "Four or five guys came up to me today and told me to be aggressive and show them what a great point guard I am, so I just tried to go out there and just be great."
Funny how no one tells him to be great on a random Tuesday in Cleveland. But that's fine. The Celtics as a whole pride themselves on playing their best ball when the games matter most and Rondo's triple-doubles hammer that home.
Rondo has been otherworldly in terms of quarterbacking the offense in the second half of the season, but particularly over the last 13 games. His assist streak, and this may be no coincidence, started right around the time Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told Rondo he wouldn't be traded.
Kevin Garnett said Sunday that the trade talks had to wear on Rondo and that he tried to keep his teammate focused while he endured the rumors.
"Nine is 9," Garnett said, referencing Rondo's jersey number. "I know he got beat up a little bit during the trade talks and all that. As his big brother, I've just been talking to him, telling him the positive stuff, keeping it positive with him, man. When you're going through tough times, you really see who's with you. He's a little beat up, at the same time, he's been picking up where others have been slacking.
"There are other point guards out there, but this kid is something special, and I hope the city, and not only that, but the fans gravitate to who he is. The same thing that makes you great, sometimes is the same reason why people hate you."
Rondo can be guarded with his comments and rarely delves too deep when asked about topics specific to himself.
An example: Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he told Rondo to be more aggressive before Sunday's game. "One of the things going into the game today," Rivers said, "we told Rondo that we needed him to be a scorer. Not necessarily a playmaker, a scorer. And I thought he set the tone at the beginning of the game by doing that, and I thought that loosened it up for everybody else to get into the game."
Sure enough, Rondo came out ultra-aggressive, treating himself to a layup line that included three straight buckets at the rim in the early going. That helped Boston open a double-digit lead just eight minutes in (with Rondo racking up 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists at that point, triggering the triple-double watch).
Asked about the instructions from Rivers, Rondo shrugged and offered, "It's just what the coach ordered and I tried to be aggressive."
Every now and then, a bit of Rondo's enormous self-confidence leaks through, giving a glimpse of why he's so good, particularly on the national stage.
Asked after Sunday's game if he felt the Celtics have a good matchup with the Heat when he's healthy, Rondo said, "When I'm healthy, I think we can probably beat anybody."
You'll recall that Rondo wasn't healthy last season when the Heat ousted the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Rondo had dislocated his elbow early in the series and played the final games essentially with one arm.
If Rondo is healthy, the Celtics can be an absolute nightmare opponent for any of the East's top seeds, including Miami. And there's no secret why.
Every game of the playoffs is on national TV, which might just make it Rondo's playground.
5hEthan Sherwood Strauss
3hArash Markazi and Ben Alamar
1dAlok Pattani, ESPN Stats & Information
2dDan Le Batard