Thursday, March 31, 2011 Updated: April 1, 9:39 AM ET
Rajon Rondo gets Celtics moving
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
SAN ANTONIO -- The ball zipped around the 3-point arc, touching the hands of four Boston Celtics players as San Antonio Spurs defenders shuffled their feet to prevent the open look Boston was trying to create. A week ago, when the ball reached the end of the line, it would have stopped and the Celtics would have scrambled for a poor shot.
Instead, Paul Pierce reversed the motion and fed Glen Davis for a 19-foot jumper that put Boston on top by double digits with less than five minutes to play, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers screamed to no one in particular, "That's basketball!"
If Boston's offense was in a funk, it broke out in a big way Thursday night in San Antonio. The Celtics shot a blistering 61.9 percent in the second half, connecting on 26 of 42 shots while racing away for a 107-97 triumph over the Spurs.
Rajon Rondo not only had a team-high 22 points Thursday, but also added his usual barrage of assists with 14.
"Hell, I'm going to say it, and I probably shouldn't, but [the players know] -- I call it coach's porn," joked Rivers, insinuating that nothing gets a hoops coach more excited than seeing fundamental ball movement leading to open looks.
And that's exactly what the Celtics thrived on against the Spurs. On a night when Boston generated very little in the way of post offense, Boston shot 54.8 percent, doing the bulk of its damage from 17 to 21 feet.
And no one was more instrumental in that process than Rajon Rondo.
Boston's All-Star point guard, mired in a bit of a funk recently, sat out Sunday's game in Minnesota with what the team dubbed an aggravation of a jammed pinkie finger on his right hand.
While that might have been true, it was also a mental health day for Rondo, who responded Monday night in Indiana with renewed -- but not sustained -- aggression. On Thursday night, he delivered both.
With Boston still reeling after dropping seven of its past 12, including a winnable game that night in Indiana, Rondo put together a dazzling effort in which he scored a team-high 22 points on 11-of-20 shooting (tying a regular-season career high for field goal attempts) and added 14 assists and five rebounds over 41:14.
The most impressive part of his box score: zero turnovers.
The most impressive part of his night: a consistent midrange jumper.
Pundits always come back to the same hang-up when discussing Rondo's spot among the NBA's elite point guards: He can't shoot the basketball. Yet all Rondo did Thursday was pour in a team-high 11 buckets, more than half of which came from the perimeter, as he buried 6 of 9 jumpers from beyond 14 feet, according to the game's shot chart.
"I thought the ball movement in general was good and Rondo was phenomenal," said Rivers. "The attacking speed we played at and the extra ball movement was absolutely wonderful."
Coming out of the intermission tied, Rondo essentially put the Celtics on his back on a night the Spurs dared him to shoot. In the third quarter alone, Rondo connected on 4 of 6 shots for eight points, grabbed four rebounds and handed out five assists.
His shooting -- along with his playmaking skills in setting up teammates -- keyed a pivotal 14-0 run that turned a four-point Boston deficit into a 77-67 lead with 1:15 to go in the third frame. Rondo stood on the sideline during a late third-quarter timeout, completely gassed from sprinting up, down and around the court over a dizzying three-minute span.
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The only ones more winded were the Spurs' defenders who tried to corral him.
"I mean, when he's playing with his speed and getting out on the break, and teams honor that, then they back off of him in the half court," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "And when he's knocking down those shots, he's tough to stop -- we're tough to stop as a team."
Added Kevin Garnett: "It opens everything up. Now you have to guard him. [Manu] Ginobili was giving him four or five steps and [Rondo] was taking that jumper. We were encouraging him to take it. Tony Parker was trying to go under on pick-and-rolls. Rondo took what they gave him. I think he took 20 shots tonight, which is, for Rondo, unheard of, but he was aggressive and we need him to do that."
For Rondo, it's only the fourth game of his career with 20 attempts, and Boston is now 3-1 when he reaches that career-high plateau. But he has never dished out as many assists in those games as he did Thursday night, and his ability to get everyone involved really made Boston's effort stand out, especially given the team's recent offensive woes.
"Tonight, we just made shots," said Rivers. "I mean, let's be honest, as long as I've been in the league, it's a make/miss league, and it always will be. If you would have told them [the Spurs] that we were going to take basically all jump shots -- we had about five post-ups the entire game -- they probably would have said, 'I want to see them do that.' We made shots."
Which made Rivers quite happy. For one night, at least, all the troubles in Celtics Nation disappeared and Boston was the toast of the NBA again, handing the Spurs a fifth straight loss -- something unprecedented in the Tim Duncan era.
Now, like the ball movement Thursday, Boston can't let itself stop moving forward and into the playoffs.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.