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I knew it was coming. No shock here. Brad Miller's throwdown of Rajon Rondo came early in Saturday night's match up between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. Despite the media's attempts to make this a rivalry, Boston once again showed that last spring's ultra-competitive series against the inferior Bulls was a total fluke.
Miller's clothes line of Rajon Rondo was, in my mind, both premeditated and excessive. There's no doubt that Miller was sending a message to Rondo that he will not be allowed to freely penetrate into the painted area. Rondo, being the scrappy veteran (did I say veteran?) that he is, didn't take offense to the flagrant and seemed to get a jolt from it.
From the Boston Herald:
The Celtics point guard was coming down on a break when Miller found himself essentially flat-footed in the paint. When Rondo zagged to his left, Miller reached out and caught him by his right shoulder. Rondo went down with a thud and there was some extracurricular macho posing on both sides, but, after realizing he was still in one piece, Rondo popped up and hit the two free throws .
“It was softer than I expected,” he said. “I knew I was going to get hit, going back to last year. I anticipated contact. It wasn’t as hard as it probably seemed. I think he tried to go for my face, but I’ve been hit harder.”
Rondo was the one delivering some hard fouls in the playoffs, but he said he heard nothing about retribution.
“You just know,” he said. “But I wasn’t mad or anything. That’s just part of the game.”
Rondo's toughness is certainly worth noting, however, what's more worthy of citing is Rondo's ability to take the bump and "pop up" to hit BOTH free throws.
What can be a better Holiday Gift than Rondo consistently hitting jumpers?
It's clear now that much of Rondo's struggles from the field and from the free throw line are a direct effect of his lack of confidence in those areas. What's more clear is that Rondo's confidence is building and his perimeter shots are starting to drop.
A fellow blogger recently pointed out to me that he is comfortable with Rondo taking 15-17 foot jumpers. This, during the midst of his worst perimeter and free shooting woes, struck me as quite ridiculous.
During the last three games, Rondo has gone 10-of-13 from the free throw line and has hit 45 percent of his field goals, many of which have come from beyond 15 feet. Rajon's shot has suddenly changed. I am not saying that he will not fall back into shooting slumps from time to time, but there is a notable shift in his demeanor when launching shots from beyond the paint. Rondo's newly found ability to nail jumpers has not affected his output in dimes. Quite the contrary, he has used his opponent's shock at his recent successes from outside to his advantage in finding open teammates. Over the past three games, he has notched a 12 assists average—3 dimes up from his season average.
Being so used to seeing Rondo scurry into a fling at the basket as the shot clock is winding down, I had seemingly written off his ability to ever consistently knock down outside shots. Over the past three games, those discombobulated heaves toward the rim have suddenly shifted to (almost) pretty, fluid jumpers. Why? Confidence.
With his recent boasts from outside, it's worth noting that Rajon Rondo is looking more and more like an all-star player. For three seasons, we have been exposed to the constant media scrutiny of Rondo's shooting only being given further proof of his deficiencies in this area by his defenders propensity to continually tempt and tease Rondo to take the shot when outside of 15 feet.
Opposing coaches have adopted Phil Jackson's 2008 strategy of allowing Rondo to have his pick of the court outside of the paint.
Rondo's success over the past three game's has to lead those same coaches to scratch their head's in disgust, asking themselves, what do we do with Rondo now?
What does the opposition do with him now?
I find it highly unlikely that we will ever see Rondo in the 3-point shooting competition and I don't ever see him emerging as a high percentage outside shooter. That being said, what will the opposition do with Rondo now that he believes he has the ABILITY to knock them down and may even emerge as a 40 percent outside shooter? Combine that with his recently found stroke at the free throw line and opposing coaches have yet another defensive strategy to contemplate when playing the C's.
It's possible that, if Rondo continues to knock 'em down, teams may have to re-work 75 percent of their defensive strategies again the Celtics. This bodes most favorably for the Celtics' bigs. Rondo's ability to hit the J will allow him to more effectively play the two man game with post players in half court sets. Defenders that can no longer employ the strategy of sagging off the point guard, clogging the post. Double teams off of Rondo become less detrimental to the C's. If Rondo continues to hit, it makes the C's starters a five piece, well oiled scoring machine.
Rondo's continued success can only kick off a snowball effect that can add to the Celtics recent 10 game win streak. This will add to Garnett's ability (one of the best in the biz) to pass out of double teams. It will also free up much needed floor space for Perk and Sheed to post up without the congestion that occurs when Rondo is on the strong side of the court. Most importantly, if Rondo continues his improved free throw shooting, it allows him to be in the mix when most needed—during the game's closing seconds.
Though Rondo's shooting has a long way to go and three good shooting games do not yet make me confident or comfortable with Rondo taking jump shots in crunch time, I can now say that I no longer find my fellow blogger's comments quite so ridiculous.