Last night against the Heat, Rajon Rondo put up 44 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists, and three steals while committing just three turnovers. He played every single minute of a game that went into overtime and was undoubtedly the best player on the floor on a night that included five future Hall of Famers. It was some of the best fuck-you basketball you'll ever see, and the fact that it came from maybe the most peculiar great player in the league made it all the more impressive.
Rondo has never had the kind of skill set normally associated with virtuoso performances. His game has always been impressive but eccentric. He's a point guard who doesn't really shoot jumpers, a playmaker who avoids the free-throw line, a little guy who loves to crash the offensive boards. Bethlehem Shoals may have summed up Rondo's game the best, describing him as a player who inverts the court, eschewing the vast expanses that defenders give him at the top of the key in favor of forays along the baseline. Basketball is all about creating your own space; Rondo's game is all about creating his own angles.
Last night, Rondo did all of the things he usually does, and then he did the things he almost never does, because he had to. He scored 22 of his 44 points on jump shots outside of 15 feet (on 10 of 12 shooting), and he converted 10 of 12 free throw attempts. This from a guard who would prefer to throw a dream shake in the lane rather than shoot a step-back jumper or pull-up three.
Of course, Rondo had to play like this if he wanted the Celtics to have any chance to win. Boston's Big Three are old dogs trying to keep up with two Dobermans in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Ray Allen is missing free throws and getting break-away lay-ups swallowed by Wade; Paul Pierce only has James's shadow to welcome him on the baseline; and Kevin Garnett is now a big man who often finds himself on the wrong side of a highlight and who on offense is basically Rik Smits. These circumstances have left Rondo to stand alone against the Heat, and he has taken up the challenge admirably.
Fans and writers love to talk about players "rising to the moment" or playing their best when the "lights are brightest." All of that talk us is usually bullshit. Nobody really has any idea what's going on inside the mind of an NBA player during the course of a game. Whether he is embracing the moment or scared shitless is hardly ever discernible. But Rondo gave us a glimpse into his mindset during one of the most intense moments of last night's game, when he found himself defending LeBron James at the top of the three-point line as the fourth quarter was coming to an end, score tied at 99. Rondo stared James down and screamed, "Let's do it!" at him.
Rondo likely understands that his team is doomed to lose, and yet he chooses to respond not by receding further into the niche of his peculiarities, but by opening up his game. He's inverting the court and shooting jump shots and standing the Heat on their heads, all by himself. Even if the Celtics are going down, Rondo will be something to watch. The Big Three is now the Weird One. Let's do it.