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Monday, January 14, 2013
Rajon Rondo brings out his best

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Before Monday's visit from the Charlotte Bobcats, it was pointed out to Rajon Rondo that his assist totals have dipped even as Boston has reversed its season fortunes.

"[Do] You just focus on my assists all year?" Rondo playfully asked, joking that the reporter jinxed him on the night his double-digit assist streak ended in November. Rondo soon added, "My assists are down, but we're winning, so that's all that matters."

Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo hit his first four shots and eight of 11 against Charlotte.

But just in case anyone thought Rondo was slipping, he used Monday's tilt as a friendly reminder that he can still dominate a game. Rondo produced the 26th triple-double of his career by posting 17 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds over 37:21 in a 100-89 triumph at TD Garden.

When the same reporter asked Rondo about his motivation after Monday's game, the 26-year-old point guard initially (half?) joked, "Because you told me my assists were down and I just wanted to go out there and prove it to you that I can step my game up when need be."

But it turns out it might have been another pregame topic that truly stoked Rondo's competitive fire. Asked multiple times about Charlotte second-year guard Kemba Walker, Rondo was noticeably mum, offering only, "He's a good player."

The 22-year-old Walker labored through four of 16 shooting, while scoring 12 points over 28 minutes and finishing a minus-11. Rondo was eight of 11 shooting and plus-11.

"I'm getting a little bit older, so the younger guys are coming in and I may have a mark on my back being an older guy," Rondo said. "I made a couple All-Stars, but I'm a target every night and I just want to go out there and defend what I do best, which is run the show. I made a lot of lucky shots tonight."

The last line was dripping with sarcasm. Rondo was 4-for-4 shooting from mid-range on Monday. For the season, he is 59-for-116 (50.9 percent) from a region where opponents bafflingly still allow him to take open looks. Asked whether teams are respecting his mid-range game more this season, Rondo barked, "I don't really care."

In a way he does. Even if he won't admit it, Rondo can find motivation in anything.

Entering Monday's game, Rondo -- he of the 37-game double-digit assist streak that tied John Stockton for the second-longest in league history before he was ejected from a November game against the Nets -- had produced 10 or more assists in only four of his past 12 games since Dec. 15 (missing one game due to injury and another due to suspension).

On cue, Rondo assisted on Boston's first four field goals Monday, then scored the Celtics' next seven points as the Green opened a double-digit lead little more than four minutes in. After playing the first 10½ minutes, Rondo already owned nine points (on 4-for-4 shooting), six rebounds and five assists, triggering the early triple-double watch.

"He controlled the game from the start," said teammate Courtney Lee, the beneficiary of some of Rondo's late-game assists as Boston pulled away. "He came out aggressive, he was getting to the hole, he was finishing layups, pressuring the ball. So he set the tempo early."

Rondo also answered any questions about that dip in his stat line. Rondo isn't lying when he says that winning is the only thing that matters to him, but if he can quiet any doubters in the process, that's an added bonus.

Coach Doc Rivers laughed off the worry about Rondo's assist total before Monday's game.

"I haven't done the research on it yet. I'll call [assistant general manager and advanced stats wizard] Mike Zarren and try to figure it out," Rivers said.

Rondo struggled at times on Monday defensively, and dribble penetration aided the Bobcats' comeback effort (even if guards such as Walker were missing perimeter shots, the cracks from dribble penetration created easy looks for the bigs). But Rondo's good far outweighed the bad, especially as he directed the offense, pushing the pace when the Celtics got bogged down and Charlotte made enough shots to hang around.

"He's just very crafty, he knows the game, he has a very high basketball IQ, so he's a mismatch for most guys," Charlotte's Ben Gordon said. "Even if he's not scoring, he's able to find his teammates. He's a true point guard."

On the heels of losing eight of 10, the Celtics have won six in a row and moved three games over .500 for the first time since Dec. 12. Rondo said there's a renewed confidence and swagger in the Boston locker room.

"Our spirits are better, obviously," he said. "It's not fun losing. And since we've been winning, our locker room has been a little bit more relaxed, not so tense. Guys are smiling again and joking. So it's back to where we've been from the start.

"We lost a couple games. We never got down, we just tightened up a little bit in the locker room. But I wanted to be the guy that just tried to get us back as far as how we play. We play loose, we might smile out there on the floor sometimes -- well, I don't, but some of my teammates do. Guys like Courtney, he loves to smile, Jeff [Green] as well. Just get that swag back, and I think we've done that the last couple games."

A triple-double with a chance to silence those who questioned him?

Yes, Rondo's got that swag back as well.