Does this mean Danny Ainge won’t be trading Rajon Rondo for Pau Gasol?
Boston’s mercurial point guard played with a vengeance yesterday. Clearly annoyed that he didn’t make the All-Star team, ever the subject of trade rumors, largely blamed for Boston’s stink bomb in Toronto Friday night, Rondo took out his frustrations on the Chicago Bulls.
It was NBA Showcase Sunday - a network TV game - and Rondo made sure that Basketball America took notice. He scored 32 points with 10 rebounds and 15 assists in a 95-91 Celtics victory.
Mr. Triple Double. Rondo was equal parts Bob Cousy, Tiny Archibald, and Magic Johnson. He was Oscar Robertson. He was a 6-foot-1-inch Larry Bird. At the end of the day, he even had a little Manny Ramirez in him.
The only thing missing was Derrick Rose. Chicago’s All-World guard was on the sideline because of a back injury, which took a lot away from what could have been a dream matchup.
With Rose out of the mix, Rondo was free to do everything. And he did. Boston’s flossy guard made 11 of 22 shots from the floor and 10 of 13 from the line (take that, President Obama), playing all but eight minutes of a game in which the Celtics never trailed.
The absence of Rose demonstrates one of the problems with this lockout-shortened NBA season. Somebody is always missing. You buy your tickets hoping to see all the stars, but invariably, one of the great players is watching in street clothes.
“I think that’s happened in every one of our games,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I don’t think there’s been one game where both sides had everybody.’’
Still, it was a post-Super Bowl, pre-pitchers-and-catchers treat. The Celtics bolted to an 18-7 lead and never looked back. Getting a great contribution from JaJuan Johnson (12 points), they led by 14 with less than five minutes to play when Chicago made its final run. Chicago shaved the lead to 3 but never pulled ahead. Rondo sealed it with four free throws in the final 21 seconds.
Four for four from the line at the finish. That was no small achievement for a baller who has been Chamberlain-esque at the line.
“He was not worried about getting fouled, which was good,’’ said Rivers.
The coach was asked about Rondo perhaps having a little extra motivation in the wake of a week of snubs.
“Oh, I don’t know,’’ said Rivers, a longtime Rondo babysitter. “I’m going to let you guys be that deep. I wish I could get in someone’s head that deep. I just think he wanted to win.’’
It’s been pretty well-documented that Rondo is a sensitive type. Shaquille O’Neal’s book had a passage about Rondo’s feelings being hurt when President Obama made a comment about his shooting accuracy during a fund-raiser last year. The trade rumors (Ainge spent his post-lockout hours trying to swap Rondo for Chris Paul) and All-Star snub no doubt only add to his fire.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, who watched Rondo up close for several seasons as a Celtics assistant, said, “Rondo’s a great player. Even if you are defending him well, he still has the ability to make great plays.’’
Celtics captain Paul Pierce added, “When he’s assertive, aggressive, the way he plays, the way he played tonight, we’re a tough team to stop. When he’s out in transition, pushing the ball, taking the shots right there, the mid-range, rebounding, he’s just all energy. He’s one of those guys when he plays with a lot of energy, he’s so tough ’cause he can rebound the ball well. He just did it all. He was great to watch.’’
Rondo was not so great to watch after the game. Cloaked in a towel, he came to his locker several times while a large group of reporters waited to ask him his thoughts. He said nothing, then disappeared into the trainer’s room. Then he came out to get something to drink. Then he disappeared again. This went on for more than an hour until longtime Celtics publicist Jeff Twiss announced that Rondo did not feel like talking.
You know the drill on this one, people. When an athlete doesn’t talk to us, he’s not talking to you. If you don’t care, we don’t care.
So on this day, Rondo had no great thoughts. He was content to let his game do his talking. Perhaps he’ll post his political manifesto on Facebook.
Better yet, maybe he’ll take out his frustrations on the Bulls again in Chicago Thursday.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.