BOSTON — Between Rajon Rondo’s play and Jeff Green’s description, one might wrongly assume that what Rondo did Sunday is easy.
Rondo racked up 18 assists and no turnovers, pulling off a feat only 10 players since 1985 had accomplished, as the Boston Celtics topped the Detroit Pistons 118-111 at TD Garden. It was about as dominant a performance as anyone is likely to see from a player while scoring only 11 points.
According to Green, who was the major beneficiary of those assists with 27 points, the performance wasn’t all that complicated.
“If you want the ball, it’s easy,” Green said. “Just find an open spot and he’ll find you. That’s what I did.”
If only it were that simple. Still, Rondo and the Celtics made it look that way. Even better for the Celtics (22-41), it rubbed off on Rondo’s teammates. Boston finished with 38 assists and only seven turnovers versus 47 field goals, by far a season best. The Pistons (24-39), despite double-doubles by all three frontcourt starters, managed only 17 assists.
“I think it was just a trickle-down effect,” Rondo said. “When one guy has it going as far as passing the ball, it’s contagious. Guys kept moving the ball. We scored a bunch of points, but we kept on pushing. We played free and just had fun.”
The best way to sum up Rondo’s night is this: He was so dominant, he enabled teammates to take turns being dominant as well. Kris Humphries scored 10 first-quarter points en route to a 20-point, 11-rebound night, followed by Kelly Olynyk, who hopped off the bench to score nine of his 18 points in the second quarter. Green erupted in the third with 14 points — including four 3-pointers — and Jerryd Bayless brought Boston home with nine points in the fourth.
Humphries, who has had his battles with Rondo in the past, marveled at the team-wide unselfishness and balance.
“Kelly came into the game and played great, unbelievable, efficient, did a lot of things out there,” Humphries said. “The way everyone else was playing, (Jared Sullinger) did some big things, Jeff hit some threes for us, it was a team effort. It’s fun to play like that, too.”
“Fun.” What’s this word that kept popping up Sunday? Fun? There hasn’t been much of that for the Celtics this season, and Rondo’s never been known as a fun-loving guy. But when he’s on his game like he was against Detroit, it’s hard for the game not to be a little fun — even if it’s not always easy.
Rondo entered rare company when he passed Bill Russell for fifth on the Celtics’ career assists list on Sunday. Passing is an underrated aspect of Russell’s game, but the Hall of Fame center finished his 13-year career with 4,100 assists — an average of 4.3 per game.
“Any time you pass arguably the best Celtic of all time and your name is mentioned in the same breath as him, it’s an honor and a compliment,” Rondo said. “He wasn’t a point guard, but he played here I don’t know how long, so to pass him on the list is definitely an honor.”
The two-time NBA assist champion is gradually getting his playmaking rhythm back. After Sunday’s season-high, Rondo is averaging 8.8 assists per game. He has averaged more than 11 assists per game for three straight seasons, and he has a shot of extending that streak to four.