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Saturday, November 17, 2012
Rondo's MVP campaign gains legs

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Just when you thought election season was over, Jason Terry is already out stumping for teammate Rajon Rondo and his impending Most Valuable Player candidacy.

Fresh off Rondo's second 20-assist effort of the young season during a breezy 107-89 triumph over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday at TD Garden, Terry reaffirmed his belief that Rondo is the best point guard in the league and said he deserves to be in the MVP conversation this season.

"This year he's definitely going to be in the talks when they're talking about MVP, if we can continue to win," said Terry, who played with an MVP in Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. "The way he controls the game, his leadership, his ability to dominate the game on both ends of the floor is what makes [Rondo] special."

Rajon Rondo
Neither Jose Calderon nor a sore ankle could slow Rajon Rondo.

Rondo, back in the lineup after sitting out Thursday's loss in Brooklyn with a sprained right ankle, handed out 20 helpers while adding six points over 32:12 against the Raptors. It's the first time this season he failed to register a double-double, but he did stretch his double-digit assist streak to 33 games, with eyes on John Stockton (37) and Magic Johnson (46).

Apprised of Terry's MVP chatter, Rondo didn't shy away from it.

"Well, you know, JT's on my side, so he's a little biased, but the MVP is in the picture," said Rondo. "I would like to be one day, but we've just got to keep winning."

Pressed on the topic, Rondo added: "I mean, who wouldn't [want to be MVP]? That's a dream."

It's not just Rondo's crazy assist numbers that have caused Celtics coach Doc Rivers and his teammates to step back and appreciate the maturation of their star guard. A blossoming midrange jumper highlights the continuing physical maturation of his game, yet those closest to him believe it's the growth mentally that has pushed him into the elite tier of NBA players.

Asked when he knew Rondo would be special, Rivers said, "Probably the end of the first year. I didn't know if he would be special, but I thought he had a shot. I said it early on, it'll be between the ears for him. The talent is there. He had feel when he walked in the door; you could just see it. He's just a smart kid, and what he's done is, I think, mentally, he's really grown as a player and as a person, and I think it's taken him to where he's at."

Asked the same question, Kevin Garnett replied, "Probably our third day. After our third day after I got here [in 2007], we were playing pickup ... and you could see his potential, from how he was dictating pickup games. ... I evaluate the game from not only a scoring perspective but from a defensive perspective too. I told him a long time ago when I met him, he's got potential to do both, he had the energy and IQ to do both. It was up to him.

"And obviously, y'all see what his potential is coming out to be. The future is whatever he wants it to be. I've always said with Rondo, it's always between his ears. Consistency is everything. Whatever you put into this, that's what you're going to get out of it. He's doing a great job of it."

You can't get much more consistent for a point guard than 33 straight regular-season games with double-digit assists. Rondo is cognizant of the streak -- we saw that in Chicago earlier this week when he pressed to get to 10 assists in the final seconds -- but he is quick to note that his teammates are an integral part of this assist-filled span.

"It means my teammates are making shots," said Rondo. "It's something that I look forward to every game, just trying to make my teammates happy, and somehow I keep getting to 10. ... Tonight it was a collective effort, as far as assists. Jason made some shots, [Jared Sullinger], [Chris Wilcox] -- KG didn't play a lot of minutes, which is great for us as a team. Paul [Pierce] made some in the first half, so it was a team effort and a team win tonight." Rondo now has seven 20-plus assist games in his career. Maybe it's no surprise that six have come at the Garden, where he undoubtedly gets home-cooking from the stat keepers and their liberal interpretation of an assist, but it's still a testament to the way he is consistently fueling a Boston offense that hasn't been particularly consistent in recent seasons.

As a former point guard, Rivers marvels at Rondo's impact on the floor.

"[Rondo's game is] an offense in itself," Rivers said. "We've always said that about him. We have an offense, and then he creates another offense at times. He's a tough one. I sit with a lot of [opposing] coaches and we brainstorm about how to guard him, and I love hearing them, because I know the wrong ones. I don't ever say much. But it's hard because he's so smart.

"Now he's making the [mid-range] shot, and it's a lot harder. That's why the elbow action in the second half kept working, because they had to go over top [of screens], and with him, that gives him room. He's been terrific."

Has Rivers seen anyone like Rondo?

"There's been a couple: Jason Kidd in his heyday, Magic all the time, Stockton," he said. "But think about it, I've named four or five guys. The league's been around a long time. So it's not a lot, and he's one of them. He's a rare bird, he really is."

A rare MVP bird? Let's table that chat for a few months, but chances are Rondo is going to be a big part of the conversation.