Saturday, May 12, 2012 Updated: May 13, 10:06 AM ET
Rondo shows style and substance
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- As the locker room opened to the media following the Boston Celtics' 92-91 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday night, Kevin Garnett came barreling out of the trainer's room wearing a towel and a bemused expression, all while clutching a gaudy, red, suede high-top shoe.
"Yo Truth," he hollered as captain Paul Pierce crisscrossed the room to change. "Whose shoes are these?"
Garnett got the answer he knew was coming: Swag -- or more commonly known as Rajon Rondo. With a hearty cackle, Garnett exploded into the shower area to razz Boston's young point guard about his latest fashion statement.
Together, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett carried the Celtics on Saturday night at TD Garden.
Poor Rondo. What more does a guy have to do to buy himself a break? All the 26-year-old point guard did was produce his 21st career triple-double, including the eighth postseason one of his career, while registering 13 points, 17 assists, 12 rebounds and four steals over 40:14.
Maybe more impressive: Rondo posted 11 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in the second half alone, nearly getting a triple-double in a mere 21:27 of second-half court time, all while helping Garnett rally the Celtics from a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit to steal Game 1 at TD Garden.
Rondo's postseason podium attire has included both a crazy zebra print jacket after Game 5 in Atlanta and a combination of a black blazer, Angry Birds T-shirt and red pants after a triple-double effort in Game 2 of the same series. If Craig Sager shows up for TNT in this series, there's going to be a catwalk showdown.
Rondo's fashion choices sometimes get as much postgame attention as his on-court exploits -- which teammate Keyon Dooling finds humorous, because Rondo's best plays Saturday night probably couldn't be measured by statistics.
Like how Rondo, when not quarterbacking every aspect of the game's final five possessions, alertly fouled Jrue Holiday with 3.4 seconds remaining in a three-point game.
The Celtics were at the limit, but instead of allowing a transition look at a potential tying shot, Rondo waited for time to run off the clock and then sent Holiday to the line for two freebies.
He made both, but the Celtics were able to put the inbounds pass in Rondo's hands and he ran a, ahem, bootleg to waste the final seconds and secure the win.
"I think sometimes his basketball intellect is overshadowed by some of his moments [on the court]," said Dooling. "He's the smartest player in the game. If you look, he's a coach on the floor.
"I watched him the whole last five possessions, and he was coaching everybody," Dooling added. "It kinda reminded me of [head coach] Doc [Rivers], the way he was calling each person, giving them eye contact, telling them what to do, what to look for. It's pretty amazing to see him on the court -- he's not so quiet and reserved when he's dictating policy on the court."
Back at the podium, Rondo was decidedly more subdued. He looked relatively plain on the TV broadcast in a white short-sleeve button-up, as the banner-covered dais hid the red suede shoes, his pants pegged extra high to let the shoes shine.
Asked if he had a feeling before Saturday's game that a triple-double effort might be looming, Rondo monotoned, "I didn't think I would play the way I played tonight. I didn't get a nap today, so I didn't know what to expect."
Eastern Conference Playoffs
Get all the news and commentary on the Celtics-76ers matchup on ESPN.com's matchup page.
Imagine if he had sneaked in a snooze. Maybe that would have alleviated some of the game-high seven turnovers he committed (that's more than half of Boston's 13 overall, a sin considering the emphasis the team put on avoiding giveaways entering the series against the fleet-footed 76ers).
But Rivers couldn't stay mad at him. Not after Rondo made a trio of midrange jumpers over the final 5:50, the most noteworthy of which was a beautiful curling 18-footer above the free throw line that put Boston on top 92-87 with 56.3 seconds to play.
Asked about the outburst of his (often unfairly) maligned jumper, Rondo again offered a shoulder shrug.
"I just made some plays," he said. "It was a team effort, and I made some shots."
His vanilla answers matched his shirt, but his play was as red-hot as the shoes.
"I thought Rondo's shooting, obviously, down the stretch was fantastic. He wanted those shots," said Rivers. "We ran that play [for his final jumper]. We were going to switch Ray [Allen] and put him in that spot where the guy curls back up and Rondo wanted that play. He wanted the shot and he took it. That has to be great for his confidence."
Even after the friendly fashion ribbing, Garnett had to admit the same.
"Swag was aggressive, man," said Garnett. "I thought second half he did a lot better job looking for his shot. He has a lot of confidence."
Yes, as his shoe choice revealed, Swag has no problems with confidence.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.