If you're one of those people who harp on "consistency" like it's the be-all and end-all indicator of a successful basketball team, then the 2013-14 Celtics are probably not the squad for you.
Case in point: The C's stunk up the joint on Friday night against the Nets with 28 turnovers, including seven from point guard Rajon Rondo, and they needed a miraculously bad Brooklyn shooting night to sneak away with a win. Tonight, against the visiting Pistons, the Celtics cut those TOs dramatically, surrendering the ball just five times, headlined by Rondo's zero with 18 assists.
It was like watching an entirely different team, led by an entirely different point guard.
"It's helpful, obviously, to keep the ball and get shots up," coach Brad Stevens deadpanned after his team's 118-111 win.
Rondo was mesmerizing in his 18th game back from ACL surgery, carving up the Pistons' defense with shockingly audacious passes all night long. He found seemingly unfindable holes and threaded them with ease. He zinged the ball past guys, behind guys, over their heads, through their legs and every which way in between. At one point, he weaved a 60-foot bounce pass through two defenders to find Jerryd Bayless on the opposite end of the floor for a transition layup. It was a pass that no one else on Earth would think to make.
But what was most impressive about Rondo's game wasn't the dazzling highlights - it was the beginning-to-end completeness of his effort. The 18 assists and no turnovers were a historic feat. Only eight players - Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek, Muggsy Bogues, Jason Kidd, Sam Cassell, Andre Miller and Steve Nash - had put up those numbers in a game within the last 30 years. Given his rocky numbers of late, the gaudy box score was well-timed.
"I had seven of those 28 last game, so I made a conscious effort to do a better job of taking care of the ball, me being the point," Rondo said. "With you having the ball so much in your hands the entire game, it starts with you."
Rondo's performance has been so dazzling that his teammates have had to adjust to his style of play. Some have had an easier time with that than others.
"He's a tricky guy," Kris Humphries said of Rondo. "Sometimes, as a big, you don't know when he's going to throw you the ball. He's breaking down the D and making passes that you might not even see coming. It's taken a while to get used to it and be ready for when he breaks down the D."
"He does," Jeff Green said when told that Humphries has trouble with Rondo. "He does. I don't need that. I'm cool. I already know Rajon. This is Hump's first year with him, but I know what to expect. I just try to get open for him. If you want the ball, it's easy - just find an open spot, and he'll find you."
The Celtics might not be playing for much of anything this year, but they sure are turning heads with the way they've reintegrated Rondo at midseason. The point guard's recovery from injury and return to All-Star form don't mean much for the here and now, but they provide plenty of reason for optimism about the Celtics' future.
"He's really impacting the game," Stevens said of Rondo. "It's hard for me to say yet where he ultimately can be, because every game, he gets a little bit better. Hopefully he continues to feel better and better. His defense has risen and gotten a lot better with his conditioning being better, and his offensive game has been great. And making shots makes everything go smoother."
"When you've got an All-Star point guard who's finding his teammates and putting his teammates in a great position to succeed, you want to do the same for him," added Jeff Green. "That's how you win games - you play together."
The Celtics may not have won many games overall this season, but they've quietly strung together three of their last five. Rondo's resurgence is obviously a big reason why.