- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The Celtics always take pride in the fact that they have never produced an NBA scoring champion. In truth, they've never been big on any kind of individual achievement honor unless, of course, it's the Sixth Man Award. That means something because, well, Red Auerbach basically coined the concept. The Celtics have had three of those.
But they've never had a scoring champion -- and that goes all the way back to 1946-47. There has been no rebounding leader since 1965 (Bill Russell). There has never been a blocked shots leader. They've had one steals leader since 1974 (Rajon Rondo). They've had one Defensive Player of the Year (Kevin Garnett in 2008).
Until Thursday night, they had had only one assists leader -- and that was 52 years ago. Bob Cousy led the NBA with 9.5 dimes a game in the 1959-60 season. That was the last of eight straight seasons the Cooz led the league in assists.
But now Cousy has another Celtic with whom to share the honor. Rondo joined him after another eye-popping evening, dishing out 15 assists in the Celtics' 87-74 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks and taking the assists crown from Steve Nash with an 11.7 per game average. Nash averaged 10.7 per game.
Rondo could have sat out Thursday and still won the crown, but both he and Doc Rivers felt the point guard needed some time for rhythm and conditioning purposes. Rondo had not played since April 17 and, according to Rivers, had not done much of anything from a basketball standpoint since then.
So all he did was rack up six assists in each of the first two quarters, which extended his consecutive games streak with at least 10 assists to 24. He then added three more in the third and took a seat on the bench, having logged a shade more than 25 minutes.
"He made it look pretty easy," said Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles.
It was a fitting conclusion to an outstanding season for the Boston guard, who seems to just keep getting better and better with no end in sight. He unquestionably is now in the discussion on the topic of the game's elite point guards and he will get more than one first-team All-NBA vote.
Rondo called the assists achievement "a great accomplishment, very humbling. I thank my teammates personally. They are the ones that made the shots."
Rivers, who claims to not pay attention to these kinds of things, said he had no idea of Rondo's assists title. But he wasn't surprised at all.
"He's the best passer in the league. I don't think there's any question about that," Rivers said after the Milwaukee game. "He has the IQ of a coach. He sees things that most people don't see. And he has earned the trust of his teammates, which is awesome."
With a whole slew of new teammates in a truncated season with few practices, that makes Rondo's accomplishment even more remarkable. He wasn't with Ryan Hollins for a week before they were collaborating on alley-oops. He has made Avery Bradley look like John Havlicek when moving without the ball.
Rondo just completed his sixth NBA season, which began, if you'll recall, with rumors that the Celtics were trying to trade him for Chris Paul. He has delivered some true tour de forces this season (think national television/triple-double) and he still is only 26 years old. He's actually five months younger than rookie center Greg Stiemsma.
It used to be that the Celtics were reluctant to bring in a point guard to back up Rondo for fear that it might undermine his confidence. That policy is long gone. Rondo's confidence is one thing that the Celtics don't have to worry about. Sometimes that can come across as arrogance or aloofness. How many other NBA players earned two-game suspensions this season for throwing a ball at a referee (however well-deserved the toss may have been)?
"It frustrates me when there's a negative image of him because that's not who he is," said Celtics' guard Keyon Dooling. ''But then again, he doesn't do much to dispel that. He just goes about his business. He really doesn't care. But I'll tell the story for him. If you ask anyone else on this team, especially the younger guys, he's really pouring into those guys."
Dooling is finishing up his 12th NBA season and his first with the Celtics and he has become a confidant/gray eminence for Rondo. Dooling said one of the reasons he signed with the Celtics was not just the opportunity to play with Rondo, but to mentor the kid. He, too, had heard the stories of the sullen, stubborn Rondo. He says that's exactly what they are -- stories.
"We've had a lot of late-night, early-morning conversations," Dooling said. "We talk about life, our past, our future, our goals, about where we are, where we want to be. Just man stuff like that -- and I'm not sure how often he has gotten that in his life. That is something that I really wanted to do. I always knew he was a great basketball player and had a really unique game. But the kind of man he is, that's what I'm impressed about."
The next time we see Rondo on the court should be Sunday night in Game 1 of the Atlanta series. These two teams met in the first round in 2008. Rondo had just finished his first full season as the team's starting point guard. The prior summer, the Celtics refused to include him in trade talks for Ray Allen or Garnett. He was 22, had played one season in the NBA, and he was an unequivocal deal-breaker in potential trades for two future Hall of Famers.
When Atlanta guard Mike Bibby called the Celtics' fans "fair-weather," it didn't take long for the leatherlungs at TD Garden to get on Bibby's case. But they had their own, creative way of doing so. Instead of booing Bibby, they chanted, "Rondo's better. Rondo's better."
He was better than Bibby in that series, but who could have envisioned where he'd be, five years hence? In the company of the great Cooz himself.
"It means a lot," Rondo said, when asked about the Cousy connection. "Cousy has always had great things to say about me. I would be honored if he could present me with a ball if I get one."
My guess is that the Cooz would be happy to oblige, but the presentation has to be in the form of a behind-the-back pass, doesn't it?
Rajon Rondo became the C's first NBA assists leader since Bob Cousy in 1959-60.