BOSTON — Rajon Rondo sounded like a quarterback describing his favorite target.
“He has great hands,” the Celtics point guard explained. “He outruns his big every night on the floor, and I try to reward him when I get the chance. His hand-eye coordination is great, so I try to find him and get him the ball.”
No, that’s not Tom Brady talking about Rob Gronkowski. But on Friday night, the passer-receiver relationship between Rondo and Celtics center Tyler Zeller was just as effective.
Zeller, who’s played well since replacing Kelly Olynyk in the starting lineup last week, took his game to another level Friday night, finishing with a career-high 24 points and 14 rebounds to power the Celtics to a 113-96 blowout of the Los Angeles Lakers.
And, just as Gronk is not Gronk without Brady feeding him the ball, Zeller’s big night was made possible by the man on the other end of those bounce passes.
“I think, obviously, Tyler played at a really high level,” head coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “And I felt Rondo was just so much more aggressive and comfortable being aggressive (Friday), and that was great. Any time that he’s probing like that, Tyler’s going to roll to the rim and be available.
“And Tyler’s got that nice little flip shot at 5 or 7 feet where he can shoot it with either hand he doesn’t have to get all the way to the rim to finish. So, Rondo looks for him, and that’s a good thing.”
Rondo looked for Zeller often Friday night, assisting on six of the big man’s 10 baskets. His rapport with the third-year big has grown by leaps and bounds since the preseason, and the confidence that’s come with it has done wonders for Zeller’s production.
“Its just one of those things where the more I play with him, the easier it gets,” said Zeller, who dubbed Rondo the best passer in the NBA. “Everybody knows he’s a phenomenal passer, somebody that’s going to find the right guy, the open guy, and (Friday) it was me. Other nights it’s been other guys, so we just continue to work together and try to get somebody open on our team.”
Rondo’s shooting wasn’t nearly as crisp as his passing in the win — he dished out 16 assists but went just 6-for-17 from the floor — but that didn’t seem to bother his coach. Stevens said he spoke with Rondo before the game about creating offense rather than waiting for it to materialize, and he was pleased with how his captain responded.
“I thought he attacked great (Friday),” Stevens said. “And every time he shot it, I was like a fan saying, ‘Go in!’ … He really played aggressive, and sometimes even though he didn’t make every shot, it sets the tone for how your team plays and it puts you in an attacking mindset.”
Playing with Rondo is all about capitalizing on opportunities, and through four games as a starter, Zeller has done just that. His place in the starting five is far from cemented — Olynyk, after all, looked like one of the best players on the floor just two nights ago — but for now, Stevens isn’t going to fix what isn’t broken.
“I don’t anticipate changing it before (Saturday) morning’s practice,” he said.
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images