I don't get jazz, but I understand its appeal; the idea of a jazz quartet being able to simultaneously play in concert with each other while having room for each member to branch out and improvise sounds cool. You get this steady beat and then these blasts of (what sounds to me like) unorganized noise and that's jazz. I don't get it. I want to and maybe I'm a square, but jazz just sounds like music interrupted.
I guess what I'm saying is that I had my reservations with Rajon Rondo coming back. Well, I was wrong.
On Monday, I wrote about how easily he would fit in, but I was still a little worried. After watching the team play in the preseason, I fell in love with how the offense was clicking. It had a rhythm and continuity that I didn't want to see break. Jeff picked the perfect word in last night's recap: beautiful. There's certainly something beautiful to how Brad Stevens' pace-and-space, read-and-react motion offense flows. The ball moves freely between all five players without the pretenses of a franchise player needing to get his touches or a Big Three to share the spotlight. But this was all without Rondo.
I make the jazz reference because that's how I think about Rondo sometimes. So many of the genre's greatest musicians seem to be these quirky, esoteric geniuses that play to the downbeat of their own drum. Charles Mingus once said that, "anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple." Sounds a lot like #9, right? I was excited that Rondo was coming back, but with the team humming through training camp, adding one of the game's best improvisers could have been a disaster.
I don't get jazz, but I like to think I get Rondo. The beautiful irony with him playing on a team like this is like having Miles Davis playing with a symphony orchestra. While the other four players move smoothly through their sets, Rondo has the freedom to pick and choose where and when to improvise. Sometimes, it's something subtle, like changing tempo in a song. Other times, it's more deliberate, a blaring trumpet solo over a piano playing chord progressions.
This seems like a simple play where Rondo is just making the next pass in the natural flow of the offense, but it's the little things that make Rondo special. Rondo is working within the system but like a great jazz improviser, he'll throw in something on the downbeat and the defense moving in the wrong direction. That over-the-head, over-accentuated pass fake puts Bojan Bogdanovic on his heels and gives Avery Bradley just enough room to hit that three.
Again, this looks like a simple pick-and-roll with Kelly Olynyk, but consider the distance that bounce pass has to go and the zip he has to put on it to fit in that window. He hits that high note with ease.
Remember that pass fake that freed up Avery for a three and the one-skip bounce pass to Olynyk for a lay up? Here, Rondo strings them together. It's hoops opera. Instead of the pass fake, he freezes Jarrett Jack with a hard dribble with his left hand and immediately finds Tyler Zeller at the rim. Bup-bup-BAM. Bup-bup-BAM.
These are just three of his twelve assists last night and he's going to be piling them up all season. At the start of training camp, Stevens' talked about how he'd employ a read-and-react offense with the team, but I don't think he really considered Rondo being able to manipulate defenses like he does.
Under Doc Rivers, there wasn't as much freedom for Rondo to explore, but with Boston playing with a quicker, more deliberate pace, he's now painting on a bigger canvas. The motion offense gives him more options to play with. During one of the timeouts yesterday, Abby Chin reported that Brad Stevens told his players to have fun and enjoy playing in the system. Last night was Rondo having fun again. It may look like he's pounding the ball too much or his passes are too fancy, but this is the artist at work and at play. This is jazz. I think I can hear it now.