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Dan Devine

Putting Rondo's weak-then-strong triple-double into context

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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With about 4:30 remaining in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin joked, "You know how sometimes we call triple-doubles Oscar Robertsons? We should call weak trip-dubs like Rondo's tonight Jason Kidds." And, with apologies to Mr. Kidd, he had a point.

At that stage in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Rajon Rondo's(notes) line read 13 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, one steal, three turnovers, and Rondo's Boston Celtics - and let's make no mistake about it; right now, these are Rondo's Boston Celtics - trailed the Los Angeles Lakers 90-89, staring down the barrel of a 2-0 deficit.

But over that final four-and-change, it got better. It got strong.

First, Rondo grabs an offensive rebound off of a Pau Gasol(notes) block and hits a layup to put Boston up 91-90. Then, with the Lakers down three and Derek Fisher(notes) lining up an attempt from downtown after ball-faking Rondo out of position, the Celtics point guard recovers with a beautiful block from behind that changes momentum and protects the lead. On the ensuing possession, with just under two on the clock, Rondo drains an 18-footer that his critics say he's not supposed to hit to expand the lead to five.

After hitting one of two on a trip to the line with 47 seconds remaining and Boston up 99-93, Rondo reaches out and picks Kobe Bryant's(notes) pocket, somehow not committing a foul on what Forum Blue and Gold's Darius Soriano said, upon further review, "looks like a clean play and one where Rondo uses his great hand speed and length to tip a ball away. It's plays like these that placed Rondo on the All-Defensive 1st Team." Rondo gets fouled after forcing the turnover and once again hits one of two, making it a three-possession game with 33 seconds to play. Kevin Garnett(notes) and Kendrick Perkins(notes) would add free throws, Kobe and Pau would miss three-pointers, and the Celtics were hitting the tarmac with home court advantage.

It was a sudden shift, very different from the front-to-back evisceration of Rondo's first triple-double this postseason, the overwhelming 29-18-13 he put on the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series. During that game, he appeared to be the best player on the court from the opening tap. On Sunday night, with Ray Allen(notes) filling it up and the twin-tower tandem of Gasol and Andrew Bynum(notes) looking dominant for Los Angeles, it took a little while for Rondo's light to shine brightest.

But when it did, he was clearly the controlling force on both ends of the floor, tallying six points, one rebound, one block and one steal - all of them big - in those final four-plus minutes, bolstering that "weak" triple-double (should such a thing even exist).

A bit of perspective: Only 16 players have ever recorded a triple-double in an NBA Finals game. Twelve already have plaques at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame - Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Walt Frazier, Elgin Baylor, Wes Unseld, Dave Cowens, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, James Worthy and Charles Barkley. Scottie Pippen will make it a baker's dozen when he's officially enshrined this summer; The aforementioned Kidd and Tim Duncan(notes) (the last to turn the trick before Rondo, with his mammoth 21-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist, 8-block series-clincher in Game 6 against the New Jersey Nets in 2003) will assuredly join the hoedown in Springfield, Mass., five years after they decide to hang 'em up.

Now, there's Rajon Rondo, the new kid who earned a place alongside some of the best that ever did it with a performance that helped knot the NBA Finals. And yet, Game 2 seemed to fall short of a true exploration of the extent of his powers; it feels like there's still plenty of room before we hit the ceiling. Which is fantastic, astounding and exciting if you like basketball. (Less so if you're a Lakers fan.)

A note in closing: Only six players have notched multiple triple-doubles in the Finals - Cousy, Russell, Wilt, Clyde, Magic and Bird. Only Wilt (1967), Magic (1984, 1985, 1991) and Larry (1986) have done it more than once in the same series; Wilt and Magic ('84) even did it in back-to-back games. With Game 3 about to tip, nobody in their right mind could reasonably expect Rondo to join them by continuing his climb. Then again, reason seems to have little to do with Rajon Rondo's game these days, and the best player on the Boston Celtics seems to really dig filling his lungs with rarefied air.

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