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BOSTON -- C.J. Watson's missed free throw with 1.9 seconds to play had no impact on the outcome of Sunday's Boston Celtics-Chicago Bulls game. The Celtics had already wrapped it up, snapping a two-game losing streak and posting arguably their best win of the season.
But the missed free throw meant everything to Rajon Rondo, who swooped down on the long rebound, picking it up off the TD Garden floor before anyone else could get to it. And there it was: Rondo's second triple-double of the season to cap off a monster afternoon for the Celtics' point guard.
|In Rajon Rondo, the Nets would be getting an All-Star-caliber point guard who might thrive in a new environment.|
Rondo was masterful for most of the 40 minutes he was on the floor, helped by the absence of Derrick Rose, who was out with a bad back. Rondo finished with season-highs of 32 points and 15 assists, along with 10 rebounds, in the Celtics' 95-91 victory.
This effort nearly mirrored Rondo's Christmas Day submission (31 points, 13 assists, 5 steals) except that the Celtics came up a basket short in losing to the New York Knicks in that one. This time, against the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics never trailed, building a 14-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, then sweating it out the rest of the way.
You might say that Rondo was due. You might even say his coach told him he was due. Rondo did not play well in Toronto on Friday night (he had plenty of company in that respect) and he had been only so-so against the Los Angeles Lakers the night before, which coincided with the news that he would not be an All-Star for the first time in three seasons.
And when things go wrong offensively -- the Celtics scored 74 points against a bad Toronto team -- the point guard tends to hear it from the coach. He will really it if his coach also happened to be a point guard.
Who knows if that is what got Rondo going? Doc Rivers doesn't. "I wish I could get in someone's head that deep,'' Rivers said.
We do know Rondo responded. Maybe this was his payback game, a big you-know-what to all those Eastern Conference coaches who opted for a guy from the New Jersey Nets -- the Nets!! -- instead of him. We will have to wait to learn Rondo's version of events because he chose not to talk after the game.
That left others to do the talking for him.
Rivers: "I just think he wanted to win. And I thought we played at a better pace."
Paul Pierce: "When he's assertive, aggressive, the way he plays, we're a tough team to stop. When he's out in transition, pushing the ball, taking the shots right there, rebounding, he's just all energy. He just did it all. He was great to watch."
Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls' coach: "Rondo's a great player. Even if you are defending him well, he still has the ability to make great plays."
Nowhere was Rondo's presence more on display than in the Celtics' running game. Boston scored 95 points against a team that came in allowing 87 per game and had allowed 67 and 64 in the previous two games (albeit against Charlotte and New Orleans, but both were on the road). The Celtics shot well more than 50 percent for most of the game, finishing at 49.3 percent.
But here's the statistic that said it all: The Celtics outscored Chicago 33-7 in fast-break points. They scored 18 points off Chicago's 13 turnovers. This is where Rondo can wreak havoc, and that is exactly what he did to the Bulls.
There were a number of big plays, but two in the fourth quarter stood out. The Celtics led 82-72 with 5:33 to play when Rondo picked off a Carlos Boozer pass and was off to the races before feeding rookie JaJuan Johnson for a perfect alley-oop. Johnson acquitted himself well in the absences of Brandon Bass and Jermaine O'Neal, finishing with 12 points in 33 minutes.
On the next Chicago possession, Johnson picked off a Luol Deng pass and got the ball to Rondo. The play ended with Rondo feeding Chris Wilcox for another alley-oop dunk, pushing the lead to the aforementioned 14 points and prompting Thibodeau to call time out. Yes, you read that correctly; the Celtics had back-to-back alley-oops.
That is what Rivers meant when he talked about the pace of the game. When the Celtics can get out in the open floor like that, Rondo is a certifiable menace. And he wasn't just slicing, dicing and dishing. He also was getting to the basket. He took 22 shots, making 11, and was 10-of-13 from the line. Only one Celtics player this season has made as many as 11 field goals in one game: Rondo. He did it on Christmas. He did it Sunday.
"You could see it,'' Rivers said. "We were trying to run. That's the way we have to play. If we didn't turn the ball over" -- the Celtics had 19 turnovers -- "we would have had far more points. I just liked our pace and that's all we talked about after the game in Toronto."
Ah yes, Toronto. Well, the bad games can be, as they say, "teachable moments." And Toronto was about as bad as it gets.
Rondo made sure right from the start Sunday that that this game was going to be different. He did so the best way he knows how -- by running the show, feeding his teammates, getting everyone involved.
It was the 15th triple-double of Rondo's career, nine of them having come in the regular season. In terms of overall impact, it's likely nothing will match his 29-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist gem against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals. That remains his personal gold standard.
But for a team that had lost two straight and needed to right itself, this was exactly what Doc ordered. And against a top-flight opponent, in front of a national television audience, Rondo more than delivered.
Longtime Celtics writer Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.