AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Rajon Rondo managed to extend his consecutive streak of 10 or more assists to 34 games. Perhaps down the road it won’t matter that Rondo needed until 51 seconds left Sunday at the Palace of Auburn Hills to reach his 10th assist.
And maybe it won’t matter that the Celtics were trailing by 21 at the time, making it apparent that Rondo was on the court for the express purpose of extending the streak. Assistant coach Mike Longabardi asked the Celtics broadcasting team of Mike Gorman and TommyHeinsohn early in the fourth quarter how many assists Rondo had. The answer was six. So coach Doc Rivers reinserted Rondo with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter and the Celtics trailing, 79-65. He played 8:24 before leaving with 16.1 left, having reached the mark. Rivers freely admitted after a listless performance in his team’s 103-83 loss, the primary goal was to extend the streak.
“Yeah, why not?” River said. “You guys keep talking about [the streak]. I figured I’d give him a shot at it. It’s funny, the harder [the players] tried [to get the assists] the worst we got at that. Jared [Sullinger] gave him his final two [assists]. So that was good. You know when I called a timeout and I said, ‘Guys we’re going to lose the game, by the way, so let’s not play crazy, but if we can get him two more, let’s do it. If not, that’s it.’ It’s the first time we’ve done that.”
Rondo is three games behind John Stockton, who amassed 37 games of double-digit assists over the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons. Magic Johnson holds the record of 46 that began at the end of the 1982-83 season and ran into 1983-84.
Rondo was asked if extending the streak in garbage time was a hollow feat. “You don’t know what happened when Stockton got his,” he said. “You don’t know if he stayed in the game and was up 30 or down 30. Now we’re in the present, so now you probably look at it with a lot more attention as far as wins and losses.”
The Celtics signed Courtney Lee to be their starting shooting guard, at least until Avery Bradley returns. That lasted five games, and Lee now has become a sparkplug off the bench without the pressure of scoring. Lee’s shot is going down with more regularity, although the attempts and opportunities have dwindled. Jason Terry is the starting shooting guard now and he has flourished in that role, meaning Lee will be coming off the bench indefinitely. He scored 3 points Sunday in 19:53, attempting just two shots.
“It’s just whatever the team needs me to do, that’s all,” said Lee, who is averaging 5 points off the bench. “Whether it’s start or come off the bench, Doc Rivers said he’s going to have interchangeable lineups. As long as it’s working, whatever the team needs me to do.”
One of Lee’s early issues was a lack of aggression. He averaged just 5.6 shots per game during his five starts. “Usually nobody has to tell me [to be aggressive],” he said. “I don’t know what it is. Usually I’m just trying to get the best shot possible.”
Rivers said he understands Lee’s difficult transition but it’s something he’ll have to accept. “It’s his role, but it’s not that easy, especially [since] Courtney started most places and played a lot of minutes,” he said. “He’s still playing a decent amount of minutes, not starting, not featured a lot, so I just think it takes a lot of getting used to. He can score but he’s not a scorer.”
Pistons coach Lawrence Frank is a former Celtics assistant who left the club to take the Detroit job. So far it’s been a difficult transition back to head coaching for Frank, who entered Sunday’s game 27-50 as Pistons coach and 2-9 this season. Detroit is stockpiling talent, attempting to rid itself of bad contracts and aging veterans left over from the glory days, but the Pistons are painfully young. Rivers and Frank talk often and the Celtics coach expressed sympathy for Frank’s situation. “I mean, he has talent but they’re all young,” Rivers said. “It’s just tough to win with young players.” . . . The Celtics played without former Piston Darko Milicic, who missed the game because of personal reasons . . . The Celtics will take Monday off and return to practice Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday’s showdown with the Spurs at TD Garden.