Celtics

The Other Rajon Rondo

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The Other Rajon Rondo

Two kids with the same name, living in the same city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.

Last night, before Game 4 of the NBA Finals by the way, I checked out at halftime. Im assuming that OKC won? Great! Lets go with that Rajon Rondo made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmels pregame show. However, he wasnt in the studio. Instead, Rondo was at home in front of his computer, ready to play the NBA Edition of Skype Scavenger Hunt.

Now there are a few interesting takeaways from Rondo's appearance. First, that he just moved into a new house complete with a chair borrowed from Joffrey Baratheon. That tells you a little something about his comfort level in Boston, right? Obviously, we don't know if he bought or if he's renting, but either way, it doesn't make sense to move your family into a new pad unless you plan on staying there for a while. And for the first time in a long time maybe ever? we get the sense that Rondo's finally confident enough to call Boston home.

Second, Kimmel's initial challenge: "Bring back the last thing that you read!" could not have been more perfect. At least from the Celtics fans' perspective.

We've spent the last six years trying to piece Rondo together like the world's most complicated jigsaw puzzle. We've grown obsessed with figuring out who he really is and what really makes him tick. Over and over, we've heard about how he's one of the smartest players in the league, and of course, we can also see that ourselves, but the more coaches, teammates, analysts and opponents mention it, the more intriguing and impressive that intelligence becomes. It makes us want more.

What's the last thing Rondo read?

Damn straight we want to know the last thing he read!

As Rondo searched around his new house, a couple options ran through my mind. I was secretly hoping for something like the Art of War by Sun Tzu or a biography of Winston Churchill. I dreaded the possibility of him making a joke of the whole thing and bringing back something about Red Bull or a magazine with himself on the cover. But deep down, I knew he wouldn't disappoint. And he didn't.

The answer: The Other Wes Moore.

Two kids with the same name, living in the same city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.

It wasn't cliche as opposed the two books I mentioned. Nothing felt contrived or insincere as if he was digging through a box of random books in his bedroom thinking, "Hmm, what will impress everyone the most?" Instead, it was just a random (albeit a former New York Times Best Seller), deep and philosophical non-fiction story about two very different guys with the same name.

And that was fitting, because the whole appearance showed us a very different Rajon Rondo.

Last night, he carried himself in a way that we never could have imagined, even as recently as a year ago. After all, this is a guy who's spent the better part of the last six seasons walking around like he's about to go in for a colonoscopy. He's been cold, short, snippy and unapproachable.

Yet here he was: On live TV (although, it was National TV which could help explain the performance). Unscripted. Out of his element.

And he was entirely comfortable.

He was funny, friendly, humble, self-deprecating straight goofy! There was no chip on his shoulder, no bone to pick with anyone. He was more real in these 4:58 seconds than he's been in any 4:58 since being drafted by the Celtics. At least on a stage that's visible to someone other than his family and teammates.

Maybe it took forcing him out of his element and away from the media to bring out this side him, but in my opinion, it's just another sign of how much he's grown.

I mean, it's easy to still look at Rondo like a baby compared to his Hall of Fame teammates, but the truth is that he is growing up. He'll be 27 next season. He's no longer a kid. And that's become evident in every aspect of his public life: The way the Big 3 finally began deferring to him down the stretch last season. The way he carried himself on the podium after games. The fact that he even agreed to go on Jimmy Kimmel in the first place.

Let's face it: Part of growing up is becoming more comfortable in who you are. In your own personality. So while it's been easy to just write Rondo off as a miserable curmudgeon, I think there's also a very real possibility that he's spent the last chunk of years doing what most of us do (or did) in our 20s. Figuring stuff out. Learning about and growing comfortable with who he really is. The only difference is that he's done it on the biggest stage imaginable. In the face of millions of mean-spirited people who would love nothing more than to bring him down and who are ready to jump on anything he has to say. It's hard enough growing up normal, I can't imagine what it would be like to do so under that spotlight, especially for someone as aware and cerebral as Rondo.

But he is growing up. He has grown up. You get the sense that he's ready to be Rondo, and that the puzzle's starting to come together.

That doesn't mean that he'll be all smiles, because being Rondo still means being moody and snapping at stupid questions, and Lord know those stupid questions aren't going anywhere.

But there's finally reason to believe that that's not all he'll give us.

That there will be more honesty, more personality and who knows, maybe even a book club.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

BOSTON – You had to figure Golden State’s explosive offense would probably come up a little short scoring-wise against the Boston Celtics and their top-rated defense. 

But for them to score 88 points – that’s about 32 below their average – was very one of those, “where the hell did that come from?” moments. 

And it was exactly what the Celtics needed to escape with a 92-88 win that extended their winning streak to 14 in a row but maybe most important, put the entire league on notice that this streak they’re on right now … it’s real. 

“They wrote us off coming in, saying Golden State was gonna beat us, and do this and do that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We came out and played basketball. Even though we got down, the make-up of our team is staying in; we’re resilient.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s signature win of the season, 92-88 over Golden State which extended Boston’s winning streak to 14 straight. 

 

BROWN’S GROWTH

Jaylen Brown was playing with a heavy heart less than 24 hours after the death of his best friend. But as we’ve seen in this still-young season, Brown is very much one of the league’s emerging talents. He certainly played that role on Thursday in leading Boston with 22 points with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.  

 

TALE OF TWO HALVES FOR TATUM

There’s something about the second half of games against elite players that brings out the best in Jayson Tatum. When Boston opened the season at Cleveland, Tatum was noticeably better in the second half than the first. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, it was more of the same. In the first half he had just two points only to finish with a 10-point second half (7 coming in the fourth) for a 12-point game on 2-for-5 shooting. 

 

AL HORFORD

As well as he’s played, a strong case can be made for Horford being a league MVP instead of their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. Horford tallied a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with a pair of assists. Horford now has six double-doubles this season which equals his double-double total from all of last season. 

 

MARCUS SMART

As much as you know Smart makes great effort plays consistently and does indeed make a difference when he’s on the court, his shooting woes are reaching critical mass even as Boston continues to gobble up wins. In the last five games, Smart has averaged 7.6 points. That’s not too bad, right? But then you look and see that he’s shooting 19.2 percent (10-for-52) in that span. Ouch! So far, the Celtics have been able to find success despite his shooting struggles. But you have to anticipate at some point it’ll catch up with them. 

 

SHORTENED ROTATION

For most of this season, pretty much everyone who suits up for the Celtics, have played. But against the Warriors, it had the feel of a playoff-like rotation with head coach Brad Stevens playing 10 guys with nine reaching double digits in minutes played. Considering how the second unit struggled to make shots (they missed 17 of their 19 shot attempts), it’s understandable why head coach Brad Stevens leaned a little heavier than usual on his second unit.

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

BOSTON –  The NBA has seen its share of early-season injuries, some resulting in guys out for the season (Gordon Hayward) while others missing just a couple games (Al Horford out two games with a concussion).

MORE CELTICS:

 

And then there’s Kyrie Irving, who suffered a facial fracture that kept him for one game. He was supposed to wear a plastic protective mask for a couple weeks. Instead, it lasted one game and part of another before Irving decided to ditch it.
 
Kyrie’s mask got me to thinking … who are the best masked men in the NBA?
 
Today's Starting Five will include the top 5 masked men in the annals of NBA history, in addition to the top 5 teams, MVP candidates, rookies and defenders:
 
TOP 5 MASKED MEN


1. Rip Hamilton, Detroit – Worn initially for protection, his mask became an iconic look for the three-time All-star.

2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – Mask worn in 2012, the last year Bryant appeared in the playoffs.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – He looked and played like a superhero in his first game with a mask in 2015, tallying 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Philly.

4. LeBron James – Ever the fashion-forward one, James wore a black, carbon-fiber mask to protect his broken nose in 2014.

5. Kyrie Irving - He played with a mask for 19 games in 2013, averaging 24.5 points and 47.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.
 
TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES


1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – The addition of Eric Bledsoe has helped rack up some wins, strengthen Antetokounmpo’s chances atop the MVP leaderboard.

2. Kevin Durant, Golden State – Shooting better than 50 percent from the field, Durant has stepped his passing game (career-high 5.0 assists now) up this season while continuing to pile up the wins.

3. James Harden, Houston – Not having Chris Paul around most of this season and still winning, is a reminder of how Harden has played at a consistently high level against all comers.

4. LeBron James, Cleveland – Three straight wins and the Cavs are well on their way to getting back into the thick of things, with LeBron leading the way.

5. Al Horford, Boston – In his last three games, he’s shooting 76.6 percent and has been a central figure in Boston’s rise to the top of the NBA standings.
 
TOP 5 ROOKIES


1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia - He has eight double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles to his credit this season. He’s the rookie everyone is chasing now.

2. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas - You have to watch this guy play. Would be getting a lot more pub if the Mavs had a better record.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston - Had a rough start against the Warriors, but bounced back and made key plays down the stretch helping Boston get the win.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers - The late first-round pick has been an absolute Godsend to the Lakers, able to contribute in a multiple of ways.

5. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers - He has been up and down like most rookies. But his court vision alone will keep him on the floor for many years to come.
 
TOP 5 DEFENDERS


1. Al Horford, Boston - He’s the best defender on the NBA’s best team defensively. It makes sense for Horford to be the pace-setter in this category.

2. Rudy Gobert, Utah - A towering presence, this 7-foot-2 big man will once again be a top-3 finisher when it comes to the league’s highest defensive honor.

3. Draymond Green, Golden State - The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Green is the rare player who can defend all five positions at a fairly high level.
 
4.  Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City - His ability to defend guards as well as switch out defensively is a huge plus to the Thunder.
 
5. Aron Baynes, Boston - You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who utilizes the NBA’s rule of verticality  better than Baynes.
 
TOP 5 TEAMS


1. Boston – Winning 14 games, that’s one thing. But to beat Golden State along the journey? That’s special.

2. Golden State – Loss to Boston be damned, the Warriors are still the team everyone emulates … even now.

3. Houston – Can score with the best of them, but until they defend at a high level their success will remain limited primarily to the regular season.

4. Minnesota – It’s still early, but it’s hard to imagine the Timberwolves going anywhere but up the Western Conference standings.

5. Detroit – Outside of Boston, there may not be a bigger surprise in the NBA thus far than Detroit.