- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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PHILADELPHIA -- There are some who believe that numbers and streaks are what drive Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. That making a charge at Magic Johnson's double-digit assist record or recording a triple-double in a nationally televised broadcast means more than the final score.
Let Friday's overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers set those wayward folks straight.
On a night when players throughout the Celtics locker room clung to the silver linings and lamented missed opportunities, Rondo dismissed it all. After posting a ridiculous triple-double box score of 16 points, 14 assists, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals -- joining only birthday boy Larry Bird (1982) and Johnson (1983) as players to do that since steals and blocks became official stats in 1973-74, according to Elias Sports Bureau -- Rondo suggested none of that mattered given that the 76ers emerged with a 95-94 triumph at the Wells Fargo Center.
"If you play great and lose every game, that don't mean anything," said Rondo. "It's about wins and losses."
Rondo has maintained a strong desire to hop off the Celtics' early-season roller coaster, seasick from a relentlessly up-and-down, 10-9 start to the 2012-13 campaign. He wants to see his team consistently put together 48 minutes and embark on a sustained winning streak.
So in a game in which the Celtics couldn't execute down the stretch, this after missing countless open looks and giving Philadelphia every opportunity to hang around despite its own miscues, Rondo took the loss harder than anyone not named Courtney Lee.
"I don't listen to that," Rondo said when asked about taking solace in the progress the team is making in recent games. "It's all about wins and losses."
That doesn't fit the narrative for a vocal mass that's convinced Rondo is a stat-chaser. Sure, the Celtics didn't help that reputation when Rondo was on the floor in a lopsided loss in Detroit last month, prolonging a double-digit assist streak that eventually reached 37 games, tying John Stockton for the second-longest span in NBA history.
And that same group often points to the end of that streak -- his ejection for a dust-up with the Nets' Kris Humphries late last month that ultimately led to a two-game suspension -- as proof that Rondo is too hot-headed to be a leader and doesn't think about the well-being of the team.
Lost in that is how Rondo reacted to Humphries because he was sticking up for a teammate and friend (Kevin Garnett) who he thought had endured an unnecessarily rough foul. There's no argument about whether Rondo overreacted -- that much is obvious -- but his intentions were better than most give him credit for in escalating a scuffle that unfortunately spilled into the stands.
Make no mistake, Rondo's motivation on the court is driven almost exclusively by two numbers: wins and losses.
So Friday's loss in Philadelphia was particularly tough because he had at least two chances to win the game. A 19-foot step-back jumper at the end of regulation clanged off back iron, then he slipped on a mad dash toward the rim in the final second of overtime and ultimately airballed a desperation baseline jumper.
After inbounding the ball to Kevin Garnett on that final overtime possession, Rondo observantly noticed defender Evan Turner tracking the lobbed inbound pass. Rondo sprinted toward the basket, where Garnett, having received the pass on the blocks, handed it off. Rondo, likely concerned by the clock, attempted to plant and shoot, but he stumbled and barely even got a shot off.
"I should have took the layup," admitted Rondo, who had a clear path with Lavoy Allen staying close to Garnett. "I tried to make a plant and just slipped."
Like Rondo, the Celtics were left kicking their collective selves. Boston had great looks all night but shot only 43.2 percent from the field, with no one's line more unsightly than Jason Terry, who was 1-for-12 overall, missing six of the seven 3-pointers he put up.
"If this game was only about looks, boy, it was our night tonight. Because we had all the looks we wanted," said Terry. "I know me, personally, I always look at myself first. If I just made one shot, that's the difference in the ballgame. Being the competitor that I am, I can almost bet on myself. Actually, I will bet on myself tomorrow. If I get those same looks, [the shots are] going down."
Across the room, Lee was the last player to file out. He barely had his uniform off by the time some players were catching the early bus. With a chance to potentially seal a win, Lee airballed a corner 3-pointer with 25 seconds to play in overtime and Boston on top by 1.
Philadelphia got the rebound and, shunning a timeout to set up a play, watched Turner make a 13-foot pull-up jumper over Lee with 3 seconds to play.
"We had a lot of opportunities and a lot of good looks, and they just didn't go down. Especially mine," said Lee. "I know Doc probably talked to the media and said it was unfair that I was sitting for like 12 minutes, but it doesn't matter. We're NBA players, we get paid to play this game, and I have to at least hit the rim to give us a chance to get an offensive rebound. I didn't do that, so I'm very disappointed in myself."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers tried to look past the end result and focus instead on the effort his squad put forth.
"I thought we played hard all game," said Rivers. "We didn't necessarily play well, but we played hard and I'll take that.
"What I told [the players] going into overtime was, 'We've missed more shots, we haven't played great, but yet we get to go to overtime.' We had a lead there, and they got a couple great bounces; they made their breaks. Paul [Pierce] blocks Evan Turner's shot, it falls back in his hands and he makes the layup. Evan makes a tough shot to go up. Really, it came down to make/miss. They made two unbelievable shots -- Evan Turner made them both -- and we missed pretty much good shots. That's the way it goes sometimes. I loved our effort, I love how competitive we were. Overall, if we keep doing that, we're going to make a run here soon."
Pierce tried to stress that to the players as well.
"I thought the effort, the intensity, the grit we played with -- I told the guys when we came back in here, if we play like that for the rest of the season, we're going to win a lot more games than we're going to lose," he said. "I'm happy with the effort; a couple times the ball didn't bounce our way. I blocked Evan Turner's shot down the stretch, he gets it back and lays it up. I miss a layup, clear right in front of the basket, that could have put us up 3. Free throws -- we had our opportunities. The good thing about it, we get a chance to come back out here tomorrow, on our home court and try to avenge the loss."
And regardless of what you might believe, that's the only thing that will make Rondo feel better about what happened on Friday.
Rajon Rondo seeks W's for the Celtics, not triple-doubles for himself.