The Charlotte Bobcats’ locker room after Monday night’s 100-89 defeat to the Celtics at TD Garden resembled the aftermath of a child’s birthday party: There was dirty stuff everywhere, all the smiles had disappeared, and the lone stragglers waiting for their ride home looked exhausted.
Kemba Walker might have been the most exasperated. He sat quietly on one of the benches. Walker, whose University of Connecticut team knocked out Rajon Rondo’s alma mater Kentucky in the 2011 Final Four, inadvertently had made Rondo’s night on the court.
“I played him like [I would play] any other guy,” Walker said, dumbfounded.
But Rondo didn’t play like just any other guy Monday night. He played like Rajon Rondo. The first 19 points Boston scored were either by Rondo or assisted by Rondo.
Then, when Charlotte was able to claw back within 4 points in the final quarter, Rondo did it again, pushing the Celtics on a 9-0 run by assisting on three baskets and scoring one.
Rondo finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists, turning the ball over just twice.
The point guard of the losing team, Walker finished with 12 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers. It was a setback in Walker’s breakout sophomore season, a game in which all of his statistics were below his season averages as the Bobcats lost their 23d game in the last 25 chances.
It was just the sixth time in 37 games this season that his assist-to-turnover ratio was below 1.5-to-1.
It was easily the best performance Rondo has put on during the Celtics’ six-game winning streak, and it marked his third triple-double of the season.
“He controlled the game right from the start,” said Celtics guard Courtney Lee.
Rondo can turn it on when he wants to. He admitted that after the game. But there was something evident from the start of this one, some fire lit under the point guard who insists that he never smiles on a basketball court.
“Was it [a reporter] asking me about Kemba Walker?” Rondo said. “I’m getting a little bit older. The young guys are coming in. I may have a mark on my back being the older guy, making a couple All-Star Games. But I’m a target every night and I just want to go out there and defend myself.
“What I do best is run the show. I made a lot of lucky shots tonight.”
Rondo pulled out all the tricks.
His driving was sensational, with a couple penetrations that ended with fadeaway floaters kissing off the glass and going in.
His jumper was on, as he finished the game 8 for 11 from the field to match his most successful shooting performance (72.7 percent) since he had matching numbers in a second-round playoff win over the Hawks last May.
And his passing was Rondo-like.
He picked up assists on a bounce pass, a two-handed pass, a one-handed reverse pass. He even did his best Pedro Martinez impression, firing an overhanded pitch across the court to Paul Pierce, who dished to Kevin Garnett for a wide-open jumper.
“Like a baseball player,” Rondo described it. “I’m sure someone has dropped one before. But as long as I don’t turn it over, it’s just a pass I can make.”
Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap was impressed.
“He puts the ball in the middle of the paint and operates there, so he’s like a post guy,” Dunlap said. “He makes a post pass to himself much like [Steve] Nash. He just puts it exactly where he wants it and he distributes.
“And then the other thing is that he’s such a good rebounder that sometimes he can get his own misses.”
Walker said even while he was at UConn, he rarely watched Rondo play.
Asked how he’d go about limiting the point guard, Walker struggled to find words.
“I don’t know,” he said. “He’s tough to defend. You just have to try your best to keep him in front of you.
“They play good team defense. It’s tough to beat someone when you have to expect that someone else is going to step up.
“He’s just hard to keep in front of you.”