There have been single-digit scoring games, like when he failed to make a basket in a win over Utah. There have been games in which he has been underused, such as the win in Washington when he clocked less than 18 minutes on the court. Yet the Celtics signed Terry for games like Saturday’s, when he showed no hesitation in letting fly his shots at crucial moments and was pivotal to Boston’s blowout win over the Raptors.
“The looks that I get this year are different,” Terry said. “They’re not in my comfort zone. They’re not in the spots where I’m used to getting my offense. I have to be patient and take what comes to me, but when it comes, take it like it’s the game-winning shot.”
Terry was the biggest beneficiary of Toronto coach Dwane Casey‘s move to employ a zone defense in the second quarter. With the Raptors packed into the paint to combat Kevin Garnett‘s post looks and Paul Pierce‘s dribble penetration, Terry was in the clear unbelievably often for a guy who has hit more 3-pointers than every NBA player in history except Ray Allen, Reggie Miller and Jason Kidd.
The Raptors must not have checked the scouting report, though, because they let Terry go off for 20 points while shooting 4-for-7 from downtown. Terry is comfortable facing zones because Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle used them during Terry’s time in Dallas, most famously against the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
“If you’re going against a zone, you need Jason Terry on the floor because he’s a zone breaker,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
“Honestly, he’s played a lot of zone. In Dallas they play a lot of zone defense, so that would tell you he probably had a lot of practice against it. You could see that.”
The zone was not all that sparked Terry’s offense, though. Terry was one of the first to give a nod to Rajon Rondo, who came back after missing one game with a sprained right ankle to dish out 20 assists and extend his streak to 33 games with double-digit assists. The Celtics as a team moved the ball as well as they had all season, handing out 37 assists on their 43 field goals. Six of Terry’s seven baskets came off assists from Rondo.
Terry called Rondo the best point guard in the league. Rivers called Rondo “an offense in itself.”
“We used to say that — we’ve always said that about him,” Rivers said. “We have an offense, and then he creates another offense at times. He’s a tough one. I sit with a lot of coaches and we brainstorm how to guard him, and I love hearing them because I know the wrong ones. I don’t ever say much.”
The trouble for opponents is that Rondo’s skill set is a moving target. He scored only six points on Saturday, but two games earlier he dropped 20 points on the Bulls. He grabbed only two rebounds, but against Chicago he nabbed nine. He can also shift between being a tenacious on-ball defender and being a sneaky ball-swiper playing the passing lanes, and when his jumper is falling, he is virtually unstoppable.
The defensive aspect, which has earned him a steals title and four All-Defensive team selections, sets Rondo apart from other point guards in Garnett’s mind.
“I’ve never played with a point guard who is in control of the flow of the game the way he is,” Garnett said. “The guy who comes to mind is Sam Cassell. He was pretty good at controlling the flow. He could score the ball, but as far as controlling the game at both ends, understanding their role, knowing when to slow it down, [Rondo] is the best.”
Any direct comparison to Rondo is difficult because he is so unique. Rivers invoked Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson and John Stockton. Courtney Lee mentioned Peyton Manning. Then Terry brought up potential candidacy for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, provided the Celtics continue to win.
All those titles are nice to debate about, but very little about Rondo’s performance on Saturday was debatable. On a gimpy right ankle, Rondo helped a struggling teammate break out of his shell and deliver the shooting show everyone expected when the Celtics signed Terry in July.
Terry is no longer in his comfort zone, but thanks to Rondo he may be finding a new one.