With 3.5 seconds remaining on the game clock and his team clinging to the smallest of margins, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo found himself on the bench. With more personal fouls than points attached to his name, Rondo joined the likes of Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic — mentally hand-in-hand — to watch the final ticks unfold.
Their teammate Ray Allen would extend the lead to three after a pair of otherwise automatic free throw attempts. When the Anthony Parker three-point attempt caught front iron and fell back to the earth, the Celtics escaped with a three-point win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Rondo, the All-Star, was already donning warm-ups as his spot on the floor was taken by power forward Brandon Bass.
The Cavs lost the contest. This very game was one of 66 in this season, a vacuum. But for what would amount to the majority of his 32 minutes on the floor, Rondo was forced to chase around Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving as if he were a Wine and Gold carrot on a stick. Often times, he was relegated to grabbing Irving’s jersey from behind. Despite being scoreless after an 0-for-6 shooting night, Rondo was actually fortunate that the officiating crew in house deemed his fourth and final foul to be on the floor; Irving immediately launched a three-pointer as the Celtics guard bore down.
Sure, Rondo amassed 11 assists. He also had five turnovers. He allowed the bulk of Irving’s 24 points (67.8 eFG%) and at no point looked to be the better player.
Rondo has had his fair share of success against the Cavaliers, abusing Mo Williams throughout an entire playoff series en route to one of the larger upsets in recent sports memory. His ability to pass the ball is undeniable as he has averaged nearly eight assists per game over his career having been surrounded by Hall of Famers since the day he stepped foot in Boston. As an amateur, the concerns of Rondo’s game were his perimeter shooting thanks to a slow, deliberate jumper. Press him and he can blow by you, lofting up a high-percentage floater. Play off him, and he’s relegated to defensive stopper and passer.
Against Irving, he was merely a passer.
This is not to start some faux rivalry where we compare one player to another in an if-then fashion. But it is to say that, despite the Cavaliers winding up on the unfortunate side of the ledger and Irving having a few opportunities to close things out, he was still on the floor during crunch time. Something his rival, one who represented the Eastern Conference in Orlando this past weekend. Irving, instead, was relegated to taking home the Rising Stars MVP after 34 points and an 8-for-8 night from three-point range. At least he managed to come away with some Galaxy Foams for his troubles.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers would to on to call Irving “terrific,” boasting skills and moxie that he has never seen from a rookie in the NBA. On Rondo, “he was struggling.”
To Rondo’s defense, this was his first taste of Irving due to a nagging injury that kept him out during their first two match-ups. Hall of Fame-bound teammates does not an All-Star make. Hall of Fame opponents, however, continue to help write the rookie storybook for Irving as he is averaging 22.7 points and 5.0 assists per game against the Celtics this season. He has a game-winner, one of the league’s top plays through the first half of the season and has provided stellar second-halves each time out.
Now if Irving could just put together games like this against the Toronto Raptors.
(NBAE Photo via David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)