Boston Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo has always had a penchant for big games. His affinity for nationally televised matchups is well documented, and practically all of his best performances has come under the NBA‘s brightest lights. Celtic fans have often seen this as a double edged sword because, while Rondo takes his game to another level when he’s on National Television, he often disappears in matchups against lesser competition. He plays great in big games, but he doesn’t play that well all the time which can be frustrating for Celtic fans because they want him to play at that level every game. However here is the good news for Celtic fans – every playoff game is a big game, and through four games of the 2012 NBA playoffs, Rondo looks to be in big game form.
Rondo was playing at an elite level going in to the playoffs, closing out the regular season on a streak of 24 straight games with double digit assist totals, and finishing the year averaging 11.9 points and 11.7 assists per game. Yet unbelievably Rondo has been even better at the start of the playoffs – through four games, minus the one he missed due to suspension, Rondo is averaging 19 points and 13 assists, all career playoff highs. Things can change in an instant in the NBA, and while the Celtics are up 3-1 on Atlanta this series is far from over. However based on a three game sample Rondo sure looks unstoppable, and that makes the Celtics really scary.
The saying in Boston for years has been “as Rondo goes so go the Celtics.” Well Rondo is going and, unfortunately for the rest of the league, there doesn’t appear to be anyone left in the east who can slow him down. When Derek Rose got injured the one player who would pose a legitimate challenge for Rondo exited the playoffs. New Jersey’s Deron Williams has given Rondo problems before, but he and his Nets are on the golf course right now while Jay-Z and the Nets ownership group plan their move to Brooklyn. Milwaukee’s Brandon Jenning is also an awfully good player, but his Bucks missed out on the playoffs in the season’s final week, and he isn’t on Rondo’s level anyway.
Of the point guards left in the Eastern Conference Playoffs the one who has actually defended Rondo best is Atlanta’s Jeff Teague. While somewhat under the radar, overshadowed by other Atlanta stars like Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, Teague has turned into an very good point guard for the Hawks. He’s one of the few players in the league with quickness on Rondo’s level, and in their two regular season matchups he held the Celtic point guard to a miserable 7-30 shooting. Rondo still put up big numbers, recording a triple-double in Boston‘s April 11th win at the TD Garden, but Teague made him work for everything he got and forced into a bunch of bad shots. Teague has done his best to slow Rondo downin the playoffs, but through four games he really hasn’t had any success, and if and when the Celtics get past the Hawks it will only get easier for Rondo.
Provided that the Celtics get past Atlanta, their next opponent would be either the eighth seeded Philadelphia 76ers, or the Rose-less Chicago Bulls. This would mean either Philadelphia’s Jrue Holliday or Chicago’s C.J. Watson going head to head with Rondo. Both are good players, but one would still expect Rondo to dominate the matchup in route to a Celtic win. If Boston were to make it to the Eastern Conference finals their opponent would likely be either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers, meaning a matchup between Rondo and either Miami’s Mario Chalmers or Indiana’s Darren Collison. Again this really should be a case of no contest, and while both teams are good enough to win even if Rondo dominates, they will have a tough time slowing Rondo down which makes beating Boston a real challenge. Nothing is guaranteed. In fact, given Boston‘s injury history and penchant for blowing leads, it’s far from a certainty that the Celtics will even get past Atlanta. However if they do take care of business against the Hawks things are set up pretty well for Boston because there doesn’t seem to be anyone left who can slow down Rondo.
Now as a pass first point guard Rondo’s success still depends on his teammates knocking down shots. If Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Avery Bradley all start bricking the open looks Rondo gets them, or if the injury bug strikes again, the Celtics are in trouble regardless of how well Rondo plays. However as long as Rondo keeps playing at this level, and his teammates stay healthy and keep knocking down open shots, there really is no limit to how far the Celtics can go. They have numerous weaknesses that can be exploited, but since nobody in the east has an answer for Rondo, the Celtics have a fighting chance against any team out there.