After all the speculation and endless rumors, the Boston Celtics have finally pulled the trigger on a trade to ship Rajon Rondo out of town. The polarizing point guard has garnered mixed reviews from Celtics fans over the years - some are happy to move on while others are distraught that the team is losing its best player for a collection of expiring contracts and a non-lottery draft pick. In the wake of this deal that is bound to be only the beginning of a massive roster shakeup, I'm choosing to focus on the fond memories of Rondo's time in a Celtics uniform by sharing a personal story of one of my favorite Rondo moments.
The date was May 9, 2010 and the Celtics were hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. My brother and I bought tickets for our parents so that we could all attend the game together after assembling for a nice brunch in Boston to celebrate Mother's Day. Our seats were within the first few rows of the balcony, near center court - a decent view as far as balcony seats go, for a reasonable cost. As excited as we all were to attend a playoff game, we had no idea that we were about to be treated to such as sensational show.
That show was put on by Rondo, who exploded for one of the best games of his career. While he's no stranger to recording triple-doubles, Rondo's insane 29 point, 18 rebound, 13 assist performance doesn't fully capture his effect on that game. How impressive is that stat line? Only two other players in league history had ever accomplished that in a playoff game - Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. That puts Rondo in some pretty impressive company. The "little brother" to the Celtics Big Three looked like a man among boys that afternoon as he took control of the series to demolish the Cavaliers.
Despite sharing the court with three future Hall of Fame teammates and facing an opponent that was led by LeBron James, Rondo proved to be the best player on the court that day. Celtics fans had come to recognize "National TV Rondo" as the side of him that shined in the spotlight and thrived in big moments, but this was on another level. His ascendance from sidekick to superstar was more prominent in that game than ever before and by the end of the 2010 playoffs you could easily make a case for Rondo surpassing his veteran teammates as the Celtics most important player (although if you want to argue Kevin Garnett never relinquished that belt until the day he was traded away, you'd have a solid case for that as well).
I recognized the leap Rondo was making early in the game and have unofficially credited myself with being responsible for starting an "MVP" chant during that game. I can't really say for sure if I was first, but I was certainly the first person to get it going in my section - or any of the surrounding ones within earshot. Many of my fellow fans looked to me in amusement when I first started the chant, as if they thought I was joking or merely trying to mock LeBron (who would end up winning the regular season MVP that season). By the second half I was no longer alone in recognizing who the true MVP was - at least in that game. The TD Garden was rumbling with an electric atmosphere as the entire crowd showered the court with chants of M-V-P!
Cleveland had entered the game up two games to one, but Rondo turned the tide to lead the Celtics to evening the series. His dominance seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the Cavaliers and led to LeBron's reign in Cleveland crumbling to an end. That game was when LeBron started to receive criticism for falling apart in the playoffs. King James scored 22 points in the game, but he shot only 7-of-18 from the field, turned the ball over 7 times and disappeared down the stretch. He lacked the aggressive attack mode that he showed in his explosive 38 point performance in the previous game. When his team needed him to counter Rondo's heroics, LeBron failed to answer and Cleveland never recovered. Boston would go on to win the following two games to knock off the favored Cavaliers on their way to an eventual trip to the NBA Finals.
Rondo's inconsistencies throughout his career could be maddening, his antics frustrating and his attitude enraging. Despite his faults, there's no doubting his ability when it came to stepping up in big games like the one I witnessed that Mother's Day afternoon. Games like that one are what I will miss most about Rondo. That game still stands as the most dominant performance I have ever seen live in-person and is one I won't soon forget. The Celtics are moving on as they look to rebuild in a new direction, but fans will always have the memories of what he accomplished in his eight-plus seasons in Boston. We'll miss Rondo, but I for one consider myself fortunate to have been there to see him at his best.