Every year in the NBA Playoffs a new hero rises to the occasion and creates a new path of stardom for himself.
Last year Dirk Nowitzki shook off all the previous “soft” labels and carried the Dallas Mavericks against the Miami Heat trio to win the franchise’s first NBA Championship.
In 2008 long-time Celtic Paul Pierce finally added his own banner to the rafters next to the ones won by Boston-legends Larry Bird and Bill Russell. In 2004 Chauncey Billups pushed the name-less Detroit Pistons past the star-studded and future Hall of Fame-bound Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup to win the championship, earn the Finals MVP honors and establish himself as one of the most clutch players in the league.
You don’t even have to win it all to get your name recognized. Last year James Harden hit countless big shots for the Oklahoma City Thunder which made him a part of the team’s “Big Three” this season, joining scoring forces Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
This year the player that’s making all the noise in the playoffs—with respect to Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and LeBron James—is Rajon Rondo.
Rondo has been an afterthought for most of his NBA career.
He was a first-round draft pick, but he couldn’t shoot. He was an NBA All-Star point guard, but surely Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook were all better. He won an NBA Championship but the main guys on that team were Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
And this year the Celtics were supposed to be too old and not deep enough to compete. When they matched up with the Miami Heat certainly this would be the end of a team on, as The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan put, “Year 5 of the Three-Year Plan”.
Yet Rondo has made himself and the Celtics relevant this postseason.
In the playoffs he’s upped his points per game, assist per game averages and steals per game averages (17.4 ppg, 11.9 apg, 2.3 spg). And he’s saved his best efforts for the Heat.
He’s led the Celtics with 24.0 points per game this series, including going for a career-high 44 points in Game 2.
In that same Game 2 he played every minute of the game, including overtime (53 minutes total). He’s totaled a double-double in the past three games of the series and in Game 4 he had 10 assists by halftime.
He’s attacking the rim and making his shots. He’s drawing double-teams. He’s feeding the open guy with ease.
The Celtics have needed him, too. Ray Allen is having the worst playoffs of his career and the Celtics don’t have a natural back-up point guard because blossoming Avery Bradley injured his shoulder and is out for the playoffs.
After being mentioned in countless trade rumors all season Rondo is showing that the Celtics are now his team. He’s taken over on the court and has drawn some attention off it as well.
At halftime of Game 4, ESPN sideline reporter Doris Burke conducted a court-side interview with Rondo and asked him how the Celtics were exploiting the Heat defense and he responded, “Them complaining and crying to referees in transition.”
Some may say he has aggravated the Heat and will draw their ire, but a lot of other NBA fans would agree that’s how the Heat players operate.
Whatever the case, Rondo is showing his fearlessness. He isn’t afraid to make bold plays. He isn’t afraid to call out his opponents for what he thinks is poor sportsmanship. This is his team and his series and he will impose his will on it.
If it draws him some Dirk-like admiration for taking down the Heat, that isn’t such a bad thing either.
But if it wasn’t for Rondo it’s hard to imagine the Celtics would’ve ever gotten this far, let alone two wins from returning to the NBA Finals.
AP Photo/Elise Amendola