Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers discuss numbers that matter (Getty Images)
It's one of the NBA's open secrets: Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo passes up layups and potential good looks for himself in order to cobble together impressive assist totals. He's fantastic enough of a player to approximate his league-leading 12.3 assists per game as it is and without the extra effort, but that still won't stop Rajon as he attempts to continue to keep his 33-game streak of double-digit assist games alive.
One of the NBA's other least-kept secrets is the fact that players are often acutely aware of where they're at regarding individual statistical hallmarks. Whether a player is going for a career-high in something, a triple-double, or a bonus-earning box score feat, NBA players young and old will purposely disrupt a game plan (or, sometimes worse, successfully lobby a head coach) in order to add a few more ticks to the ledger, irrespective of the score.
It's also a barely-guarded secret that scorekeepers in every NBA city have gotten more and more liberal with their handout of the assist over the last few decades. Sometimes it doesn't bother a scorekeeper that the player on the receiving end of an "assist" actually did all the work to create the shot he just scored on.
Sometimes, all these just about open secrets are revealed all at once. And because every team has one of those cameras handy these days, we can show you Rajon Rondo pushing the limits of good taste and the definition of an assist in these pages. Like when he and his Celtics, already down 21 points against a terrible Detroit Pistons team on Sunday, kept Rondo in for his 38th minute during his fourth game in five nights so that he could earn that final dime. Watch, starting at the 40 second mark of this clip:
With the Celtics' offense going through one of its rougher stints of the season on Sunday, something about those four games in five nights, on the surface it should be pretty impressive that Rondo even managed nine assists by that point in the game.
A deeper look, thanks to Pro Basketball Talk's Brett Pollakoff, kind of shoots that last good vibe down:
Rondo's last four assists came with under six minutes to play in the game, with his team trailing by 18, 19, or 21 points as each of those last assists were recorded. The final one came with just 51 seconds remaining, when the result was no longer in doubt.
And lest you think otherwise, note that Celtics coach Doc Rivers was more than aware of exactly what was happening, and encouraged the stat-grab. From the AP recap:
''Why not?'' Boston coach Doc Rivers asked. ''The press keeps talking about it, so I figured I would give him a shot at it. The funny thing was that the harder we tried, the worse we got at it.''
I'm part of that press that Rivers references, and I don't really see much day-to-day chatter about Rondo's streak. I'm sure every wire service has put the extension of the streak in its notes column over the last 20 or so games, but this is hardly a Celtics-shifting narrative. And, it should be noted, Pistons coach Lawrence Frank (outwardly, at least) appeared to have no issue with his opponent stat-chasing long after the outcome was decided.
So why should we hang-wring, especially if basketball minds that are much smarter than us don't appear to be?
Because this is where I shrug my shoulders, grimace a bit, and give you a "he's pushing it, man" sort of plea.
Rajon Rondo is not doing his team or the game a disservice, and it isn't as if he's firing away to build up his points or missing shots at his own basket in order to grab that tenth rebound for a triple-double. The assist, by nature, is the most selfless stat in basketball and possibly all of sports — not only is it giving up the ball to a teammate, but it's also creating a scoring opportunity at the same time for the teammate. It's like handing the ball off to a running back, then diving into the scrum yourself as his lead blocker.
Still, it's pushing it. Man. Even in a four-games-in-five-nights scenario that the Celtics probably knew before the game even started that was probably going to cost them a win, no matter the opponent.
This all coincides with scorekeepers — opponent's scorekeepers, mind you — helping Rondo's totals along the way. Look at this ridiculous "assist" from a game in Milwaukee from earlier this month, as pointed out to us by Haralabos Voulgaris:
The situation was entirely different with this clip. The Celtics were in a one-point game, and Rondo made an expertly-placed pass to Kevin Garnett with just minutes to spare in the fourth quarter.
The problem, for the scorekeeper at least, is that Kevin Garnett (because he's great) took two lengthy dribbles spaced out over about 12 feet, and then tucked his feet back for a the Larry Bird-styled step-back jumper. Not only did KG do all the heavy lifting, here, but he took his shot from about 15 feet away from where he caught Rondo's pass.
This is nit-picking, but this is everywhere now. I don't care that the assist has been devalued, we're getting smarter every year as basketball fans and advanced statistics have come a long way in their ability to help us compare players from different generations, and don't really mind if the Celtics while away a loss in November attempting to avoid a sulking Rajon Rondo and creating something of substance (at least, in Rondo's eyes) out of a wasted night in Detroit.
It's just … pushing it. That's all.
Rajon Rondo has done fantastic work as a leader of a Celtics team, having to grow up before our eyes along the way under the weight of scrutiny (starting in his second season, with Garnett's arrival in Boston) that would have destroyed many a potential top-tier point guard. And, again, eking out that many assists per game on a team that is often devoid of easy assist options is remarkable.
This is below everyone involved, though.
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