The three shots Rajon Rondo took in the Celtics’ 101-95 loss to the New York Knicks on Friday weren’t enough, and Rondo didn’t hesitate to say he needed to be more aggressive.
He matched his season low in field goal attempts, and when he was asked if he needed to be more aggressive, he said flatly, “Yes. Yes, I do.”
He sprayed 10 assists (the 12th time he’s gone for double-digit dimes this season) and grabbed seven rebounds, but after averaging 12.4 shots in the four previous games, he dialed back his shot attempts.
“I just tried to take what the defense gave me, get us in our sets,” he said.
Part of the reason was the Knicks’ defense, but it also had to do with the Knicks’ offense. The Knicks shot 58 percent in the first quarter, 49 percent for the game, outscored the Celtics by 11 when Rondo was on the floor, by and large keeping the Celtics out of transition, where they’ve been the third-best team in the NBA (16.7 points per game).
“We were taking the ball out of the net for the most part when I was in the game the whole time,” Rondo said. “Couldn’t find a way to get stops, played against a set defense. Coach came down, we called plays, and just let the offense flow.”
It’s not a coincidence that Rondo got off a season-high 17 shots in back-to-back games a week ago when the Celtics held the Wizards to 37 percent shooting and the Lakers to 42 percent.
“I think when I’m at my best, when I’m most aggressive, is when we’re getting stops defensively,” Rondo said. “Those games in particular we were able to get stops, in the first half especially, and I took those shots.”
With that in mind, center Tyler Zeller said he didn’t think aggressiveness was a problem for Rondo.
“I think he needs to shoot the open ones,” Zeller said. “I think he’s done a great job of that. I don’t think he needs to shoot any more, any less. I think he needs to take the ones he thinks he can make, the layups that he consistently gets.
“I think he needs to continue to play the way he’s been playing. He’s been playing great for us. I know he’s been taking a lot of heat for the stuff that’s been going on as a point guard, but I think he’s a phenomenal player and he does a great job of pushing our team.”
Zeller, Rondo in synch
When he plugged Zeller into the starting lineup two weeks ago, coach Brad Stevens said he wasn’t sure if the move was permanent. But in his eight games as a starter, the third-year center has given Stevens every reason to let things ride.
Zeller has averaged 12 points and eight rebounds since moving into the starting five. He’s shooting 62.9 percent from the floor, running with the opportunity to be Rondo’s 7-foot finisher around the rim. For the season, Zeller is averaging 8.5 points and five rebounds in 18.6 minutes.
By the numbers, he’s playing his best ball since his rookie season, when he averaged 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 26.4 minutes for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Getting more and more comfortable every game,” Zeller said. “It’s my third year, so I’ve had some experience. I played a lot my rookie year, so some of it’s just getting more comfortable. Some of it is I gained some weight and was able to hold my own some more. Some of it is having a very talented point guard.”
Rondo said he knew in the preseason that he and Zeller would have a connection on the court, and Zeller, who finished with 19 points against the Knicks (his third straight game in double figures), acknowledged that he’s benefited from playing with a passer like Rondo.
“It’s one of those things where Rondo does a great job of finding me and most of my shots are pretty easy,” Zeller said. “So I’ve got to give him a lot of the credit for the shots I end up getting. So if he’s able to find me, it makes my job a lot easier.”
Frustration for Green
A month ago, while the Celtics were in the middle of an ugly stretch that saw them lose eight of nine games, Jeff Green said his frustration with losing was at an “all-time high.”
With their current three-game losing streak bringing the Celtics down from the high of the season-high three-game winning streak they strung together a week ago, the disappointment is still there, Green said.
Even though Green is scoring a career-high 20 points a night, the Celtics are struggling.
“I want to win, and I don’t care how I play, I just want to win,” Green said. “That’s all what I’m frustrated about. That’s what I voiced a couple weeks ago. I’ll do anything to win. I know we have the pieces to win. We just have to find a way.”