Thursday, May 31, 2012

Green Rondo a la Whoah.

Apologies for the brief absence, it's been a crazy week.  Before I get into last night's hoops, allow me one quick thought on the draft lottery: SHENANIGANS AND HOODWINKERY!!!  Just kidding.  Sort of.  That is all.  Now, let's talk about that Celtics/Heat game, and one Rajon Pierre Rondo.

Contrary to a popular axiom, the winners do not actually write the history books.  They're too busy enjoying the spoils of victory or seeking new conquests to bother with jotting down how great they were for posterity.  That task usually falls to the scribes, camped on their cozy sidelines from whence they can document what occurred.  Well, what they remember as having occurred.  In the immediacy of aftermath, there's not much of a difference between the two. The tales hew pretty close to reality for quite a while.  But then the years roll by and history gets just hazy enough that we can tweak it a little.  Then a little more, and so on.  And because everyone likes to read and hear about glorious triumphs and victory in the face of long odds, the stories become more and more about the winners the farther we get from the moment of the event.  The losers, no matter how ferociously and commendably they may have battled, are ultimately consigned to the realm of those people who got beat by those other, superior people, howsoever "superior" was defined in the contest in question.  

Ralph Branca, after all, was a three-time All Star and a hell of a fine pitcher; now he's remembered almost exclusively as the guy who gave up Bobby Thompson's "Shot Heard 'Round The World."  More pertinent to this post: when the NBA playoffs roll around each year, people invariably reminisce about Jordan's Flu Game or Willis Reed's miraculous return to the Madison Square Garden parquet, but few are wont to recall Isiah Thomas raining jumpers on a busted ankle in game 6 of the '88 Finals, because the Pistons ultimately came up short.  Even looking at last year's postseason: I vividly remember Chris Paul throwing up a 27-15-13 against L.A., Brandon Roy's single-handed explosion with zero spring left in his knees, and Dirk being Dirk in pretty much every game.  It takes far more effort and the aid of the internet to recall Kevin Durant's 40-8-5-2 (blocks) outburst, or Manu Ginobili's crazy half-court heave and even more patently absurd falling-out-of-bounds trey to keep the Spurs on life support.  Even the most heroic of losing efforts is quick to fade.

Which brings us to last night and why I wanted to write this post.  The Celtics lost to the Miami Heat to go down 0-2 in the series.  Decades from now, the box score will show that Paul Pierce fouled out in the 4th quarter, that Ray Allen was not himself, and that Kevin Garnett played OK for a guy as tired as he must be.  It will show that LeBron and D-Wade did pretty much what you'd expect them to do, and that Mario Chalmers (seriously?) and Udonis Haslem (?!?!SERIOUSLY?!?!) were relatively incredible.  And it will show that Rajon Rondo put up one of the most incredible lines ever recorded in a basketball game.  But hardly anyone looks at box scores from the Eastern Conference Finals of years gone by.  Especially when The Future will remember this season for the lockout, the Clippers becoming relevant, Derrick Rose going down in the opening game of the playoffs, and the seemingly inevitable showdown between the Heat and one of the greatest NBA teams ever assembled.  (Barring something truly crazy happening, the 2012 Spurs are going to win the title, and will go down in history with the '96 Bulls, '86 Celtics, and '77 Blazers as near-flawless juggernauts.)  And since what Rondo did last night is likely to become a footnote to all of that, let's take a moment to crystallize it in our minds.         

Moving from left to right across the box score:

Minutes played: 53.  I'll say that again.  Fifty.  Three.  Minutes.  That would be, you know, all of them available in last night's game.  Rondo was on the floor for every tick of the game clock from the opening tip through the conclusion of overtime.  No breathers other than timeouts and halftime.  No space to recover, mentally or physically, from the unrelenting, rhythmic hammer that is playoff basketball.  What with the remarkably depleted Celtics bench, his team needed him, so he played and played and played.  (Since he plays for Boston, I feel I can make the "no rest for thaaa wiiickkkkeedddddd, kid!" joke without too much remorse.)  I mean, we think a complete game is something special for a starting pitcher, and they're only playing for half of it.  What Rondo did last night was beyond the bounds of normal.  NBA nerds crack a lot of jokes about his aesthetic resemblance to an alien, but this really was something only Rondo or a non-carbon-based life form could have pulled off.

FG: 16-24.  That's 66.666%  "Well, the devil went down to South Beach ..."  While quite a few of his drive-the-lane-ball-fake-behind-the-back-and-make-an-improbable-finsih moves contributed to that insane percentage, Rondo also knocked down a barrage of perimeter jumpers.  Seriously, this is Rajon Rondo we're talking about, here. The phrase "perimeter jumpers" has heretofore only been used in conjunction with his name in sentences like: "Sag off him on defense and force him to take perimeter jumpers."  Yet Rondo calmly drained shot after shot from well outside his perceived range of efficacy.  The man simply shot the lights out.  Possibly all the lights on the Eastern Seaboard from American Airlines Arena to the Tobin Bridge.  Which brings us to ...

3 PT FG: 2-2.  With under twenty seconds left in overtime, with the game and the Celtics' hopes dwindling by the instant, Rondo calmly buried a pair of consecutive treys, the second from way, way, way downtown.  (The official game log has it at 28 feet.)  Rondo is a career 24.1% from deep.  So last night was either a remarkable, magical fluke, or Rondo has added an element to his skill set that will make him absolutely terrifying in the future.

FT: 10-12.  Rondo has been a mediocre freebie shooter for his entire NBA tenure.  He shot 59.7% at the stripe in the regular season.  Yet he's at 73.7% for the postseason and was absolutely dialed in last night.  Again, this is either a massive statistical blip or a signal that Rondo has added new facets to his already unique and fantastic game.

Rebounds: 8.  Sure, he's a triple-double factory, but that doesn't make his rebounds last night any less impressive.  In a twist for Rondo, who is usually a (relative for a PG) force on the offensive glass, all 8 of his boards came on defense.  Still, the fact that a diminutive 6'1" point guard pulled down 8 rebounds with LBJ and co. around to battle him is quasi-insane.

Assists: 10.  Chris Paul may be the best point guard in basketball.  Ricky Rubio may be the most imaginative.  Ohter than Rondo, I'm not sure anybody else in the NBA could make you pause and say "ten dimes, huh? that's a little on the low side."  Which is what ten assists for Rondo feels like.  Still, he made sure he got the ball to the right guys in the right spots.  Well, if Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were healthy, they would have been the right spots.  The shots simply weren't falling.

Steals: 3.  TO's: 3.  Rondo is a phenomenal defensive player, so the three steals seems about right.  In a vacuum, 3 turnovers spread over 53 minutes of clock seems pretty benign, but they all came at critical junctures that altered the course and momentum of the game.  Hey, it wouldn't be Rondo if he weren't making the odd tactically loony choice in the midst of his brilliance, right?

Points: 44.  Yeah, earlier categories addressed some facets of how this was achieved, but take a second to wrap your mind around the totality of that number.  44.  That's two buckets shy of LeBron's "48 Special."  Rondo scored effusively and with authority, including every C's point in OT.  Excepting his brief moments of utter fatigue in the midst of an incredible night, he was simply unstoppable.

Last night, Rajon Rondo submitted a performance for the ages.  He completely dominated every aspect of the game, towering (metaphorically) over everyone else on the court with an all-out, all-game, all-heart, 53-minute-long detonation of excellence.  It wasn't enough.  Not for the win, anyway.  Hopefully, it should be enough to remember, even as history seeks to do its work of obfuscating and shortchanging the vanquished.  To paraphrase and mangle Tom Petty: "Baby, even the losers, get their well-deserved historical props sometimes."

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