It was a pleasant surprise to see Rajon Rondo in the TD Garden last night. With his buddy Josh Smith in town, Rondo picked a perfect night to return with a 118-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Avery Bradley said it best to reporters after the game, "It was just good seeing him. I haven't seen him in a while. But having him there on the bench with us felt good. Felt like we had our captain back, so it was a good feeling to see him." Avery's right, it was good to see Rajon Rondo simply sitting on the bench again. As a fan, sometimes it was just nice to glance over to the Celtics bench and smile knowing the team leader was there. As a teammate of him, it must be especially motivating to look over and see him right there with you. Jeff Green also spoke after the game and said that though he wished Rondo had been back on the court, he thought that "it was a big emotional boost for us to have him on the bench with us."
You could see that boost of energy that Green spoke of in the Boston Celtics' play last night. It's no coincidence that Boston scored a season-high 118 points (in games that ended in regulation) on the night of Rondo's return. Paul Pierce had a triple-double, with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, in front of Mr. Triple Double, Rajon Rondo. Pierce also cut down on his turnovers as well, with only one. Jason Terry also managed to score 24 points, his second highest total of the season. Not to mention, Jeff Green happened to sprinkle in another 27 points. Not bad.
Many of Boston's baskets were scored in transition, but the best transition buckets were easily the two Terrence Williams dunks from the first half. While they were extremely impressive in terms of his athleticism, most spectacular to me was how he got them. Terrence Williams wasn't ahead of the play, like a typical fastbreak dunk where there is no one around you, but Williams broke away with the ball right up the middle of the court, straight to the basket. These two plays in the middle of the second quarter ignited the team.
When Doc talked about Williams after the game, it brought to mind a style of aggressiveness that reminded a little bit of the guy who was back on the bench last night, Rajon Rondo. Rivers told reporters, "All we've asked him to do was: every time he gets the ball to be a locomotive. Literally! Be a locomotive. Run straight down the middle of the floor, as fast as you can, and if someone gets in your way, that means someone else will be open. I thought he did that twice tonight when he went coast to coast with dunks."
He could literally be describing Rondo, considering Rajon would sometimes get the ball and push it as hard as he could, no matter how many defenders were back. Why? Because if somebody is on you, it means someone else is open when you're in transition. Doc Rivers had trust in Rajon Rondo's instincts to make the right play and I think Doc wants Terrence to trust his. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that Terrence Williams dug deep for his inner-Rondo. With his play tonight, the big dunks were the result, but in the future it could be penetration and passes out to get open looks for teammates.
In relation to pushing the pace and being aggressive, on February 7, Doc Rivers told the media, "I like the way we're playing, I like our vibe and spirit. We're playing selfless and free, that's how we have to be. Our pace has to stay. We're honestly not that good enough ball handlers to play half court. We can't get stuck like that. We don't have one guy that is good enough with the ball to orchestra our offense."
For a while, the Celtics followed Doc's orders and brought the energy that Rondo would often bring to the team. From the 27th of January to the 8th of March, the Celtics had a record of 14-4 and averaged 100.1 points per game. They were playing with energy because of the lack of their floor general, but since March 8th that has faded quite a bit. Until last night, the Celtics had a record of 3-7 with an average of 93.7 points per game. Of course there are many variables that factor into this (including the loss of Kevin Garnett), but lately the Celtics have lacked energy and that happened even before KG went down.
Yet, on the night of Rajon Rondo's return, the Boston Celtics managed to go back to what Doc Rivers demanded of his team in early February. Push the pace. Play selfless. Play free. Rondo won't be able to suit up for the team again this season but I can only hope his mere presence continues to have the impact that it did tonight.
(Quotes from this story were obtained via CSNNE and CLNS)