PHILADELPHIA — The harder Rajon Rondo tried to get Brandon Bass involved in Game 2, the less effective the Celtics power forward seemed to be.
Bass never really found his stroke in that game despite Rondo's efforts, shooting just 5-for-15 and watching the entire fourth quarter from the bench. So Rondo appeared to switch his strategy entirely in Game 3, driving to the hoop at every opportunity, and a funny thing happened: Bass had one of his best shooting games, percentage-wise, of the playoffs.
Rondo's stated goal in every game is to get his teammates involved, but as in Game 3, the more he looks for his own shots, the better off his teammates often are. Rondo scored 13 points in the first quarter of Game 3 with only one assist, forcing the Sixers to key on him defensively and opening up Bass, as well as his other teammates, for open shots in rhythm, not forced jumpers against tight defense.
"It helps me out when he's aggressive, period," Bass said. "You can tell when he's trying to attack offensively, he's also looking for players as well. Either way, whenever he's in attack mode, it helps the whole team."
Some of Rondo's best overall performances in these playoffs have occurred when he looked for his own offense first. He scored 20 points on 10-for-18 shooting in his 11-assist, one-turnover outing in Game 1 in Atlanta, had 20 more points in a 16-assist, one-turnover performance in Game 3 against the Hawks, and scored 23 points to accompany his 14 assists and single turnover on Wednesday.
By contrast, his triple-double in Game 1 against the Sixers featured some awkward play at times, leading to seven turnovers and only 6-for-15 shooting. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has made no secret of his desire for Rondo to attack the hoop early, and often, when given opportunities like the ones Rondo received Wednesday.
"Teams dictate their defense by trying to play off of Rondo and do different things," Rivers said. "When Rondo becomes an offensive threat and Kevin [Garnett] becomes a better offensive player, plus Paul [Pierce], everyone becomes better offensive players because you can't spend the game trying to help off of him."
According to Rondo, the shift in aggressiveness was not part of any grand plan. He took the plays the Sixers presented him with, he said, and early in Game 3 they presented him with open lanes to the basket. He continued to score after the first 12 minutes, adding 10 more points to build his total for the game to 23, while he also managed to find open teammates to add 13 assists after the first quarter.
Bass shot 5-for-10 from the field in that game, his best shooting percentage in the playoffs since he hit three out of six shots in the third game of the first round.
"It's just the way it developed," Rondo said. "I got out in transition. We got out as a team in transition, but it started when we got a couple stops early. Then we went back and forth trading baskets, but other than that, I had some matchups in transition and wanted to try to attack the rim."
Rondo has three presumptive Hall of Fame teammates, and his priority throughout his career has been to get those teammates their shots. As opponents have become more familiar with his game, Rondo counter intuitively often becomes a better distributor as he becomes a more dangerous scorer.
If Rondo begins a playoff game by repeatedly taking the ball to the hoop, look out. He could be on his way to a high-assist performance.