Rajon Rondo went almost a full year without playing in an NBA game, has been back for two weeks and already is capable of being the best player on the basketball court on a given night.
Feel free to be discouraged about everything in your life right now.
In just his eighth game back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Rondo was dominant Wednesday in leading the Boston Celtics to a 114-108 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. He didn’t do it by scoring; he left that to Jeff Green, who dropped a game-high 36 points. He didn’t even rack up an obscene amount of assists, recording just 11, a total that is less than his average in each of the last three seasons.
Rondo simply controlled the game whenever and wherever it needed controlling. In the first half, that meant driving and dishing to guide the Celtics (17-33) to a nine-point advantage. In the second half, that meant deferring to Green, who scored 17 points in the third quarter, then settling his guys down when the Sixers (15-35) slogged back from 12 points down to pull within three.
While he took just eight shots, Rondo was able to open up all his teammates for looks that were often laughably open. Brandon Bass came up with 18 points on short pick-and-pops and by simply finding open areas around the hoop. Jared Sullinger notched his third straight double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, including a clutch and-one layup in the fourth quarter off a leaping bounce pass from Rondo. Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless each reached double figures in scoring thanks to the even floor spacing Rondo helped create.
It was only a matter of time, Sullinger figured, before Rondo looked like his old self again. Except in this case, it hasn’t taken Rondo all that long.
“It takes a while to get into game shape,” Sullinger told reporters. “Trust me, I know. So now he’s just starting to get back to being the Rondo we love and adore.”
The concerns about Rondo making the Celtics “too good” are still a bit premature. They have won two straight — but against two of the league’s worst teams and by a combined margin of only 13 points. Perhaps the Celtics would have beaten the Sixers without Rondo, anyway. After all, they were within a last-second shot of beating them last week with Rondo on the bench.
A two-game win streak is no reason to put the Celtics in the playoff conversation yet. But it’s still worth appreciating the things Rondo can do when he’s at his best, especially after his long absence made those things so easy to forget.
The curious case of Jeff Green continues to perplex any and all observers.
At least now it can’t be said that Green’s best games since Rondo’s return came with the All-Star point guard out of action. Sharing extended time with Rondo on the court, Green went off for 36 points on Wednesday, shooting 5-for-5 on 3-pointers at one point before missing two contested looks at the end of the shot clock.
Green continues to tease Celtics fans with his on-again, off-again habits. Celtics coach Brad Stevens has done his best not to sound flummoxed, but trying to describe Green’s inconsistencies has often left the coach trying to talk himself into his own explanations.
“It’s like after the Washington game, I don’t think we can expect 39 or 36 every night,” Stevens told reporters. “But hopefully we just continue to grow and get better with the guys that are out on the floor. I think his job is made, not easier, but simpler with Rajon out there. I thought Rajon pushed the tempo better than I’ve seen him in the eight games he’s played. The first half, we were really moving up the court and got us a lot of good looks — and Jeff’s best in that.”
Actually, Green did his biggest damage in the third quarter, from long range, often against a set defense and with Rondo on the bench almost half the time. (Green played the full 12 minutes in the frame; Rondo played 6:28.) Green’s performance in the quarter was fueled by hitting three 3-pointers and getting to the foul line, where he was 6-for-6.
But that’s the thing with Green — the things that work one game don’t always work the next game. Just when you think you’ve identified how to get Green to play like a star every night, he loses interest in his post game or he shies away from open corner threes. It’s maddening to watch, never mind coach. Have a drink on us, Brad. You deserve it.