Take the Celtics’ win over Miami last week as an example: No Paul Pierce, Tony Allen slumping in his stead, and Boston still managed a win on the road.
Rondo — that’s how.
In 44 minutes of play, the kid logged 22 points on 6-of-13 shooting (including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc), four offensive rebounds, 14 assists and three steals. That’s the work of two men — maybe three.
In retrospect, it’s what the 23-year-old guard has been doing all season. He’s tied for third on the team in scoring (14.5 points per game), fourth in rebounds at 4.4, first in assists at 9.8 (third in the league), first in steals at 2.5 (best in the league), first in assist-turnover ratio (important for a club that turns the ball over way too much) and first in minutes (37.1 minutes per game).
Even better, Rondo’s numbers have improved incrementally each month. Check out the difference between October (6.7 points, 12.3 dimes, 2.3 steals) and February (18.3 points, 11.5 assists, 2.8 takeaways).
In other words, with the season wearing on and guys (i.e., Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis) increasingly hitting the bench with injuries, Rondo has stepped up his game to fill the void.
All of which spells the little guy is assuming the role of team leader – and, as injuries might have it, team MVP.
“We gotta make a change and do something about it quick,” Rondo said after losing to the Hawks for a fourth time. “Not a trade or anything, but just making some changes in the locker room, amongst ourselves. Every guy has to look in the mirror and hold themselves accountable.”
As much as those comments sparked some controversy in Boston, they also spoke to that growing sense of control Rondo is imposing over the team.
Take, for instance, the Kentucky native’s numbers in games tied after three quarters: 17.4 points, 9.8 dimes, 5.6 boards, 4.2 steals in 40.4 minutes.
Translation: Rondo simply takes over in close games.
Does that mean he’s currently the team’s most valuable player? Consider the alternatives.
Kevin Garnett: Boston is 5-6 without him, suggesting his worth, but only 5-4 since his most recent return. A sign of how far he still is from being at full strength: 12.5 points, 3.1 assists and six boards in his nine games back.
Simply put, KG hasn’t been around enough to merit MVP.
Ray Allen: 16 points on just 34 percent 3-point shooting (the worst mark of his career), 2.7 assists and three rebounds. Ray hasn’t missed a game and is playing more minutes than anyone expected him to coming into this season, but his impact still isn’t as versatile as Rondo’s – fewer rebounds, fewer assists and not as aggressive on defense.
Paul Pierce: This is where you have to give pause. For 11-straight seasons in Boston, Pierce has been the team leader. This year, the C’s are 4-3 without him, a testament to his impact.
But the injuries are beginning to affect his mobility and legendary strength driving to the basket. His points, assists and rebounds are all down from last season.
Bottom line, Pierce, Garnett and Ray remain key to the success of this team. They’re still the Big Three. Without any one of them, the C’s wouldn’t get far in the playoffs.
But there’s also little doubt that Rondo is becoming the centerpiece – the guy who’s counted on in the fourth quarter to turn on the jets and put the opponent away. Perhaps it’s easiest to consider this question: Which would hurt the Celtics most: No Pierce, no KG, or no Rondo?
Your hesitation says it all: Rondo has entered the conversation.