As Rajon Rondo goes, so go the Boston Celtics.
That's been the mantra for this team over the past three years. Even with three of the greatest players in the history of the game on the roster, everything has seemed to start and stop with Rondo. If he's pushing the tempo, going strong to the hoop, moving the ball and setting up his teammates, the Celtics normally turn into the well-oiled machine that becomes nearly impossible to stop offensively. If he has checked out mentally and becomes passive, then the club turns into a cupcake complete with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles.
Yesterday, Rondo put up a stat line that's only been matched by Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson throughout the long, storied history of the NBA. 18, 20, 17. The current generation of basketball fans have never seen anything like it. The kid who is 6'1" and generously listed as 186 pounds (which is probably his weight immediately after Thanksgiving dinner while wearing a weighted vest) turned into a one-man wrecking crew in the land full of high-profile superstars. Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and even Linsanity himself all took a back seat to the brilliance that was Rajon Rondo. Doc Rivers offered him one of the biggest compliments a coach can give to a player.
"He's the smartest point guard I've ever been around. He's a brilliant player like that."
And as fantastic as he was, I can only help but think about when his next clunker is going to come.
When will Rondo look completely disinterested again? When will the point guard that put himself in the company of three of the greatest players to ever lace up sneakers yesterday afternoon in the Garden turn into a shell of himself? How long can his fantastic play last?
Maybe it isn't fair for me to think this way, but he hasn't really left me a choice. We've all seen this act before. You turn on the bright lights, put Rondo in front of a national television audience against a point guard that is currently all the rage and watch him go nuts. He plays with an intensity and a fire that is matched by no one. You put him on the floor against Indiana on a Saturday evening or Toronto on a Friday night and he disappears, becomes apathetic and turns into a liability. See January 14 and February 10, 2012.
Then again, maybe it is fair. Maybe it's fair for me to think that a guy with the ability, prowess and basketball IQ of Rajon Rondo should use all of that on a consistent basis. Maybe it's fair for me to think that a guy with All-Star capabilities shouldn't need to search for a reason to step his game up. Why does he need to use trade talks and matchups against point guards with more publicity as motivation? Why does he (allegedly) let the trade of his buddy and a side remark from the President negatively affect his game?
I don't have an answer for you, and that might be the most frustrating thing about all of this. Rajon Rondo is one of the most gifted players in the world. He can do anything he wants to on a basketball court, regardless of the opponent. He could go out and score 35 points a night if he tried, even though it might not be in the Celtics' best interest. He could push the ball, go to the hoop, run circles around defenses and threaten to put up a triple-double on a consistent basis. But he doesn't, and unlike the rest of his big-named teammates, he can't use age as an excuse. It makes me want to punch a hole in the wall on the nights when his stat line looks more like an area code.
Rondo's good days are more prevalent than his bad days, but his bad days are too prevalent. At least for a guy of his stature. Maybe it's the fact that a roster full of old legs and lingering injuries prohibits him from being all that he can be. Maybe it's the fact that Rondo's maturity level isn't through the roof. Whatever it is, 18, 20 and 17 is the peak of the roller coaster ride.
It's only a matter of time before the ride drops again. The sad part is that it shouldn't have to.