Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012-13: The Beginning of the Rondo Era

Here we go.

It's not a question anymore, not even just a thought. This is his team. Welcome to the Rajon Rondo era.

After years of being the floor general for the seasoned veterans, Rondo has grown up in front of our own eyes. His jaw-dropping passes, tenacious defense and unbelievable athleticism has had his critics searching and reaching for flaws throughout his entire career.

Shooting has been their greatest find. And because it's the biggest flaw that sticks out the most about Rondo, along with his free throw shooting, it's amplified. His relationship with the media also doesn't help. Rondo's quietness has made him an easy target for reporters, whom question his leadership every single season.
"He is the most under-appreciated leader in this league," said former teammate Keyon Dooling. "Do you know how many times we were at the Rondo family home [last season]? We were there all the time, bonding, building team chemistry. Honestly, our veterans didn't do a good job of supporting him in his [leadership] role"
Rondo came to the Celtics as a gifted rookie who didn't become a starter until the Celtics essentially ran out of point guards. Telfair and West, the two point guards who played over Rondo in his rookie year,  were both involved in the two blockbuster deals for Allen and Garnett, ultimately leaving Rondo to be the starting point guard for the Celtics' new Big 3. Not an easy task for the 21 year-old, at the time, but the veterans did their best to embrace him.

He was all of a sudden like a younger brother to the three. Initially, he was the young guy who loved following them around. Fascinated by Allen's work ethic, he even did the same daily routines as Allen.

On a team where he was the youngest player in the rotation, Rondo was often looked at as a good point guard- but because of the people around him. Pierce, Garnett and Allen were great weapons for him to pass to, whom were complemented by other veterans such as James Posey and Eddie House. Although Rondo was the starting point guard, it was clear that the team was a veteran savvy team. And that Rondo was still just a kid.
"Two years ago I think they wanted him to be one thing," Paul Pierce said. "But he was still learning. They were saying, 'It's Rondo's team,' but he wasn't to the point where he was that constant presence. They put him in a role that he wasn't ready for yet"
Or maybe Rondo was thrust into a role that some of his teammates weren't ready for. Pierce, Garnett and Allen had waited their entire careers to win a title. The three future Hall of Famers weren't going to just let an 80's-baby call all the shots. I mean they did win a title together. Rondo, seemingly had to wait his turn.

The 2012 season saw the most of the worst from Rondo. After Rondo had been hearing his name in a number of trade rumors that would have sent him to New Orleans for Chris Paul in December of 2011, he did not exactly jump right out of the gates when the lockout was over, and the season started.

Although he had a good season opener on Christmas in New York, it was a roller coaster ride for the first quarter of the season for Rondo. I personally questioned his maturity at the time. Unfortunately, Rondo wasn't someone who used the trade rumors as motivation (like I thought he would), and the sulking was becoming more noticeable. Lazy passes and off-balanced body language, spoke volumes. Even though he was still the same Rondo, still a very, very good player. A player who could pass the ball better than anyone I had ever seen. He still wasn't great.

I wanted another title so badly for the Celtics that I wasn't opposed to trading him anymore (not for Chris Paul, though). If the Celtics could find the right deal, I was all for it. That's how badly I wanted to see Paul Pierce, KG and co. lift up another championship trophy. Even if it meant sacrificing the future foundation of the team (in Rondo). We needed Rondo to lead this team into the right direction, no matter what that meant, and at the time Celtics' faithful weren't seeing positive results.

In a condensed 66-game season, the Celtics needed all that they could get out of Rondo. Coach Rivers monitored the Big 3's minutes throughout the season because of back-to-back games and because the Celtics, along with the rest of the league, played four games a week. It was crucial for Rondo to not only play a lot of minutes but to contribute more offensively.

So what happened? What transpired over time during the 2011-12 season that turned Rondo into the best player on an NBA title contending team? The big stage.

Maybe Rondo wanted to score more, and his teammates didn't agree. Or maybe his teammates weren't agreeing with what he wanted to do, who knows? All I know is when the lights were at its brightest and when the stage was set, Rondo performed.

Statistically, the Celtics were in a position to win games when Rondo took more shots. And when Rajon was on, he was on. He was going to prove to everyone that he was the best point guard in the NBA, in the big games. And made Celtics' management think twice about putting his name in trade rumors again.

March 4, 2012 - New York 111, Celtics 115 (OT) 
18 points, 17 rebounds, 20 assists 

It was the best game I had ever seen from him. A masterful performance, Rondo did it all on the floor. Rondo had a historic afternoon in a matinee battle against New York at the TD Garden. Throughout the fourth quarter, it looked like Garnett, Pierce and Rondo were going to carry the team to victory. But New York countered. At the end of the fourth quarter, Pierce hit a three to send the game into overtime. Allen played throughout the game and even in the overtime period, but only scored 12 points off of nine attempts.

May 4, 2012 - Atlanta 84, Celtics 90 (OT) Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 3
17 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists 

Allen returned from ankle injury and scored 11 points off the bench. Rondo led the way late in the fourth and continued to be aggressive offensively. Unlike in the past, Rondo wasn't looking to set up one of his teammates late in the game. He was going to the hoop (without the fear of having to go to the line) and had a great balance of passing and scoring.

May 26, 2012 - Philadelphia 75, Celtics 82 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 7
18 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists 

Rivers tried to get Allen going early in the game but he couldn't get it done. He went 3-11 from the floor. Rondo had his second triple-double of the series, when it mattered the most. After Pierce fouled out with four minutes left in the game, and with the Celtics clinging onto a three-point lead, Rondo shut the door on the 76ers. Within that four minute stretch, he scored 11 of his 18 points. He outscored Philadelphia himself (11-7) and brought his team to the Eastern Conference Finals. "I don't look at them as the big 3. I look at them as the championship four. My hat is off to them" - Coach Collins

May 30, 2012- Celtics 111, Miami 115 (OT) Easter Conference Finals, Game 2
44 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists

In a losing effort, Rondo played the best playoff game I'd ever seen out of him. Rondo is the first player in NBA history to tally 44 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists in a playoff game. With Pierce fouled out, Allen scored a game tying three-pointer to send it to overtime. But Rondo, continued to score. He scored 12 points after the end of regulation, scoring all of the Celtics' points in overtime. He played every single minute of the game. "We feed off of what he's doing now," said Allen. When asked if it still means a lot that no other NBA player has ever had a stat line like Rondo's in the playoffs,  Rondo replied, "It's irrelevant, we lost."

Rondo averaged 17.3 PPG/ 12 APG/ 6.7 RPG and shot 46.8% from the field and 70% from the free throw line throughout the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Numbers don't lie. He was great.

"[Rondo] is the leader. Three years ago, he was learning how to be a leader. Two years ago, he got better. Last year, he got a lot better. Now, he's here" (Doc Rivers)

Following Allen's decision to sign with Miami, there were lots of speculation that Rondo played a role in Allen's departure. Although the two had their difference, I don't think it was just Rondo that made up Allen's mind, more than it was the direction that the team was going in. In my mind, Allen was on his way out as soon as the season was over. He knew the Rondo era was going to start with or without him.

But here are a couple questions to consider: 

Could it have been Celtics' coaching staff siding with Rondo over Allen?
It was supposedly Doc's decision to start Bradley and for Rondo to get more touches offensively. I'm sure Allen didn't like that. 

Was there a case of locker room warfare?

Umm, yes and no. In Jackie MacMullen's recent article on Rondo she talks about a close bond that Rajon formed with teammates Kevin Garnett, Keyon Dooling, Chris Wilcox and Marquis Daniels. They had their rooms close to one another in the team's hotel throughout the season. It was no coincidence that Dooling was the first to speak out about Rondo and Allen's differences, after Allen left to Miami. [Article Here] 

If you consider both of these questions, you'll begin to understand that Allen didn't want to be here anymore. It's sad that a man's ego could get in the way of a team's goal (winning another championship), but I think that was the case for Allen. He didn't want his touches to decrease. The best three point shooter of all-time wouldn't stand for that. Well, see you later, Ray.

Rondo is all grown up. This is his team. Garnett understands, Pierce understands and of course Doc understands that this is the reality of the situation and in order for this team to win, this is how is has to be.

With ten new players on the Celtics' 2012-13 roster, Rondo led the way for his new teammates. During Boston's preseason trip to Turkey, Rondo's room turned into the team's social hang out spot. After being the youngster that followed his veteran teammates around, he's turned into the veteran who leads the way.
"KG always told me what separates the great ones is that there's a certain edge you have to maintain," Rondo said. "I'm very critical of myself. I want the best for myself. My standards are very, very high, for me and my teammates"
The chemistry this season, he said, is already better than last season's. He believes this is the deepest, most talented Celtics team he has ever played for.
"I knew it would play itself out eventually. I've been with the same organization for seven years. I can't be that bad of a person. Obviously, I'm dong something right" (Rajon Rondo)

It's a new day.

Josue Pavon

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