“It means my teammates are making shots,” he said repeatedly after the Celtics’ win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, when he extended his streak to 33 games. And that was that, pretty much.
Rondo’s streak reached 34 games on Sunday, when it took until the 38th minute of a blowout loss to the Pistons for Rondo to record his 10th assist and continue his march toward history. The Celtics’ efforts to get Rondo that assist went so far as calling a timeout with 1:38 on the clock and Boston trailing by 19 points to draw up a set play.
With that, it became obvious that this streak means more to Rondo than he lets on, and by extension it means something to the Celtics as well. Knowing what we know about Rondo, this really makes perfect sense. Rondo does not just want to be known as the best point guard in the league. He wants proof. What better way to prove it than to surpass the marks set by Magic Johnson and John Stockton, two of the greatest ever at the position?
Celtics coach Doc Rivers drew some criticism for making a concerted effort to keep the streak alive, and a more disagreeable coach than Lawrence Frank — a former Rivers assistant — might have made a fuss over the Celtics breaking some sort of unwritten rule. Yet Rivers was wise to keep his point guard happy. There is a Twilight Zone episode about a 6-year-old boy with godlike powers, and his parents and everyone else in his town treads lightly around him for fear that he will blink them out of existence on a whim. The Celtics need to be just as careful with their immensely talented guard, for their greatness depends on his greatness, and while greatness is possible for Rondo, it is not promised. No less an authority than Kevin Garnett recognized that from his third day as a Celtic way back in 2007, playing pickup ball with the then-second-year guard.
“You could see his potential in the way he was dictating the game,” Garnett said. “Not saying he was scoring the ball, but he was dictating a lot of plays. I evaluate the game not just from a scoring perspective but a defensive perspective, too. I told him a long time ago when I first met him that he had the potential to do both. He had the energy and the IQ to do both, but it was up to him.
“Obviously, you see what this product is coming out to be. The future is whatever he wants it to be. I’ve always said with Rondo, it’s between his ears. Consistency is everything. Whatever you put into this, that’s what you’re going to get out of it and he’s doing a great job.”
Whatever sort of play Rivers drew up in the final minutes on Sunday, the Celtics never got a chance to turn it into an assist opportunity. Rondo lost the ball before he could deliver it to a teammate, and the next time down the floor Jason Terry missed an open 3-pointer. The streak was in danger until Jared Sullinger received the ball at the top of the key and briefly considered swinging it to the opposite wing before he realized what was at stake. The rookie fired away from 20 feet and… splash. The streak continued.
To a purist, an individual statistical streak might seem like small potatoes when a team is gunning for a championship. For the Celtics to get that far, though, they will need Rondo, their floor general and their engine, playing at an historic pace. Trying a bit harder to help a player achieve a statistical milestone therefore is a small price to maintain that pace.
If Rondo is determined to chase greatness, the Celtics are right to encourage him.