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Rajon Rondo seizes control in Celtics' rise

Celtics guard Rajon Rondo drove the baseline against Utah forward Derrick Favors 14 in the 3rd quarter.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Celtics guard Rajon Rondo drove the baseline against Utah forward Derrick Favors 14 in the 3rd quarter.

Self-assessment is part of Rajon Rondo’s personality. While he has no problem piling up assists, there have been times when he has gambled too often with what Celtics coach Doc Rivers terms “home run passes.’’

Taking chances is part of Rondo’s arsenal and makes him one of the league’s top point guards. But excessive passes were costing the Celtics possessions, and Rondo was mostly responsible for the turnovers.

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The Celtics are 13-5 since the All-Star break entering Friday night’s game with the Timberwolves, and Rondo’s rededication to ball security has been one of the reasons. Since the break, Rondo is averaging 12.4 assists and 3.6 turnovers compared with 9.5 and 3.7 in the first 22 games.

And he has compiled at least 10 assists in 11 straight games, including 14 in Wednesday’s 94-82 win over the Jazz. The Celtics have been successful of late because the offense is stronger in the first half. The 15-point first quarters are a thing of the past, and Rondo is sparking the offense with early ball movement.

But Rondo is hardly content. He realizes that some of his decisions may have cost the Celtics wins.

“I think I was doing too much; instead of making the simple pass, I am making the home run pass,’’ he said. “That’s just how I play. I’ll try to do a better job of it. If I do turn it over, I just don’t want it to lead to an easy break or fast-break points.’’

But one of the reasons Rondo is second to Phoenix’s Steve Nash this season in assists is his ability to thread passes to spots few players can, and knowing where his teammates will be. On Wednesday, he drove to the basket, only to be stopped by Utah’s Paul Millsap. While facing the basket, he flipped a backward pass to Kevin Garnett, who usually parks himself at the perimeter.

“I like rewards, I look at the positive [of taking chances],’’ Rondo said. “It’s like gambling, I don’t go into gambling thinking I am going to lose. I think I am going to succeed.’’

The Celtics have committed an average of 1.3 fewer turnovers since the break, and while it is still an issue of concern, Rivers is pleased by the improvement.

“We’ve had a couple of [bad games] but overall our numbers are down and that’s huge,’’ he said. “We made some changes, which I probably should have made earlier in the year.’’

Rivers decided his only post players catching passes at the perimeter would be Garnett. While Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Wilcox, and Greg Stiemsma had trouble handling those passes, Garnett is accustomed to gathering the ball 20 feet from the basket.

“We realized maybe Kevin should be the only ballhandler above the circle,’’ Rivers said.

That change, along with better chemistry, have helped the Celtics reach a tie for first place in the Atlantic Division.

“We’re getting a good feel for each other,’’ Rondo said. “You play 12 days out of 16, you get a feel for things guys like to do. That’s why I think my assists have picked up. Just getting a feel for where guys like their shots and knowing what sets to call. I need to do a better job of running our offense. We haven’t been turning the ball over as much, just me. Our defensive rotations are getting better, our communication is getting better, that’s the key. It’s late in the season, it’s time to pick it up.’’

Rondo said he takes full responsibility for the production of the offense. It was sputtering early in the season, and Rondo attempted the spectacular play and not the sound one. That has changed, at least a little.

“It comes back on me, just like the quarterback,’’ he said. “If you get a delay of game in football, you know it’s the quarterback. I don’t always have the ball when the shot clock goes off, but if you track back to when we started the offense, then it comes back to me. So yeah, I take responsibility.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.
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