About his assists.
The fan predicted the Boston Celtics point guard would finish with only five assists in that evening’s game against the Mavs. Rondo went on to total 15.
“The guy said, ‘You can’t keep it up,’ ” Rondo said. “I only had four assists against the Mavs in the first half, and I thought about it in the back of my mind at halftime. I was thinking, ‘This guy has jinxed me.’ ”
Not quite. No opposing fan – or point guard – has rattled Rondo enough to keep him from racking up an assist pace that would rank as the most prolific in NBA history. The 14.9 assists per game he has averaged this season would break the NBA record of 14.5 set by John Stockton 21 years ago. His 118 dimes through the Celtics’ first eight games also is second all time to the 135 that Stockton compiled in the 1989-90 season.
“Last year, seven and eight assists were good for me,” Rondo said. “Now, people are expecting me to get 15 or 16 every night. I don’t know if it’s realistic, but I’m going to continue to try as long as guys make shots.”
Rondo averaged a career-best 9.8 assists last season, breaking Bob Cousy’s 41-year-old team record. This season’s Celtics are deeper and they’re also shooting 48.3 percent, fourth-best in the NBA, to further help Rondo’s cause. Rondo hasn’t had fewer than nine assists in a game so far this season, and is averaging 3.82 per turnover.
“We are getting more easy looks that are leading to transition [points],” Rondo said. “Guys are running the lanes more and are hitting high-percentage shots. They are not all contested jump shots. We’re getting a lot of fast-break layups, easy looks and wide-open looks in transition.
“It starts with defense. We’re getting stops and they’re getting me the ball a lot quicker this year.”
In turn, Rondo has looked for his teammates more than his own scoring opportunities. His scoring average of 10.8 points is also 2.9 points lower than last season. Celtics president Danny Ainge doesn’t want Rondo to become tentative with his shot to keep his assist total inflated.
“Rondo can have some great games with seven or eight assists that can help you win,” Ainge said. “He can have some games where he doesn’t play great, and he can get 15 or 16. I don’t think those determine whether he’s playing well all the time.
“I just think he’s becoming a better player. …He’s getting better all the time and he’s fun to watch.”
Rondo totaled a career-high 24 assists during the Celtics’ victory over the New York Knicks on Oct. 29. It was second only to Cousy’s 28 in team history. But while Rondo finished with a triple-double – he also had 10 points and 10 rebounds – he thought he played a “terrible” game because he had seven turnovers.
“I had five in the first half and I shot 1 for 8,” he said. “I thought it was the worst game I ever played in the first half.”
Rondo’s minutes have also increased to nearly 41 per game. He would like to continue at that pace, but knows Celtics coach Doc Rivers will probably cut them once Delonte West(notes) returns from his 10-game suspension on Nov. 17.
“He can play both [guard] positions on offense and defense and mix it up,” Rondo said of West. “It will be big for us along with Nate [Robinson]. Nate can get off the ball more and look to score more instead of just being a point guard trying to run the play. They can both split the time running the point.”
Rondo knows it’s too early in the season to seriously think about challenging Stockton’s record. And he also knows assists aren’t the true benchmark of his success – he totaled 15 against the Mavericks, but also missed a 3-pointer in the closing moments of the game that contributed to the Celtics losing. Before departing Dallas on Tuesday, Rondo was enjoying a meal at a local restaurant when he ran into the same Mavs fan who had heckled him a day earlier.
“He said, ‘I told you we were going to beat ya’ll, but you did have more than five assists,’ ” Rondo said. “Then he said, ‘You can’t keep this up. You'll five in your next game.’ ”
Two nights later, Rondo handed out 16 assists in the Celtics' victory over the Miami Heat.