Rondo Gives Celtics Clear Edge
If there was any doubt before Christmas who the best team was in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics cleared that up decisively Friday afternoon by pummeling the Orlando Magic, who have become a distant second-best.
Point guard Rajon Rondo, center Kendrick Perkins and newbie Rasheed Wallace are why the Celtics will strangle the Magic if they meet again as expected deep in the playoffs. It was 86-77 Celtics on Friday.
"I'm ready to win another NBA championship,'' said Rondo. "It's all about winning, and doing it every night. If that happens, everything else falls just into place.''
Rondo, now in his fourth NBA season, has grown into arguably the best true point guard in the Eastern Conference, ready to join the Big Three and take his place at All-Star Game in February.
His dominance over Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson – an All-Star last season -- will give the Celtics an edge over the Magic anytime they play in the coming months.
On Friday, it was no contest. Rondo took charge of the game, while Nelson on the other side became almost pedestrian. Rondo had 17 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in 47 minutes. Nelson had eight points, three rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes.
It may have been just the third game back for Nelson after missing 16 games with a knee injury, but he won't be catching up with Rondo anytime soon.
"Doc just gave me the keys and told me to stay aggressive,'' Rondo said. "It doesn't matter who I'm playing against. I'm becoming more of a leader as I mature. I want to take advantage of everyone out there, every night.''
Rondo leads the NBA in steals (2.7 spg). He trails only Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Deron Williams in assists (9.6 apg). He is averaging 12.3 points. He has gone from being a Big Three set-up man to being the
spark that has energizes this aging team.
"Rajon is an attacker,'' said Celtics Coach Doc Rivers. "He is rarely emotional, but you could physically see at the start of this game that he wanted to win badly. He's a leader now. It was Orlando, and they are the defending Eastern champs.''
The Magic beat the Celtics in the conference semifinal round last spring, but that was without Kevin Garnett. On Friday, they were without leading scorer Paul Pierce, but that didn't seem to matter. They were more aggressive, sharper defensively and looking like they could smother the Magic in a playoff series.
Perkins and Wallace give them something no one else in the league has when it comes to playing Orlando. They don't need double team help to negate Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA. That gives them a huge advantage defensively.
Perkins does it with his strength. Wallace does it with his smarts. Both frustrate Howard. Howard Friday got his 20 rebounds and four blocked shots, but he also had seven turnovers and made only one of seven shots for five points.
The Magic the Celtics earlier this season in Boston, but that may have been the wake-up call they needed. The Celtics have won 14 of 15 games since losing to Orlando.
"This was a benchmark game for us,'' said Celtics guard Ray Allen, who had a team-high 18 points, including four in the final 40 seconds that sealed the victory. "We had talked about this game for some time. This was meaningful.''
The feeling throughout the Celtics locker room Friday was that even though the Magic won the Eastern Conference last spring, they still feel like the favorites now.
Garnett left the game with 1:02 remaining after thumping his head on the floor trying to block a shot by Vince Carter, but he said he felt fine, obviously thrilled to leave Orlando by making a statement, knowing he has a better supporting cast than he did when the Celtics won the title two seasons ago.
"I wouldn't say it's a statement. I believe in making a presence,'' Garnett said. "That's what we did. When everyone does their role like this, we're a pretty difficult team to deal with. We left our presence here.''