Give the people with the TV cameras credit for his 16-point, 14-assist, 11-rebound masterpiece against the star-studded Miami Heat on Sunday?
Not a chance. This is Rondo, after all. The Celtics point guard’s personality, like his game, does not fit into the traditional classification. Whereas other players might admit that the bright lights and big stage inspire them to turn up their intensity, Rondo is not like most other players.
“I think my teammates put the spotlight on me more than the media or the televised games,” Rondo said after the Celtics’ 91-72 win. “Four or five guys came up and told me to be aggressive and show them what a great point guard does.”
Whatever a great point guard does, Rondo has done it this season when the major networks are in the building. Before Sunday there were his 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in a win over the Bulls in February and his unforgettable 18 points, 20 assists and 17 rebounds in an overtime win over the Knicks at the height of Linsanity in early March.
Of course, he also submitted 31 points and 13 assists on Christmas Day in New York, and two days later had 22 points and 12 assists in Miami. But those were losses, so in Rondo’s mind, those probably don’t count.
Oh yes, and lots of people were watching Game 3 of last year’s Eastern Conference playoff series, when Rondo dislocated his left elbow and returned to lead the Celtics to their only victory against the Heat.
With a large audience and two workable arms, Rondo was ready to deliver in the Celtics’ statement win.
“See how you have all these cameras on me?” said forward Brandon Bass, who scored 16 points as the beneficiary of a number of Rondo’s passes. “Rondo really likes having these cameras on him. Every time there’s a TV game, he steps it up.”
Rondo can deny all he likes. His teammates know better, even if they prefer to play coy.
“I don’t know for sure, but I think he told me that,” said Bass, who like most of the people in the Celtics locker room was in a good mood. “I can’t tell you, but I think he said that. Big games, big-time players love to show up.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked that he will tell Rondo every game remaining on the schedule is on ABC, but soon Rivers will not have to lie. Every game come playoff time gets the national TV treatment.
The key to Rondo’s performances is not just what he produces for the Celtics, but also how many different ways he produces. He started by taking the ball to the rack at will against Mario Chalmers and led Boston with 10 points in the first quarter. When the Heat closed down on his drives, Rondo reverted to his playmaking ways.
“One of the things we told Rondo was that we needed him to be a scorer,” Rivers said. “Not necessarily a playmaker, but a scorer. And I thought he set the tone at the beginning of the game by doing that. That loosened it up for everybody else to get into the game.”
By the end, five different Celtics had scored in double figures and eight Boston players had contributed meaningfully to the offensive cause. The balance made for several small heroes, and that was OK. There was plenty of spotlight for Rondo to share.