As much of a story as Boston's recent slide had been, it was the play of star point guard Rajon Rondo that has really bugged fans around New England.
Aside from being a phenomenal writer, Jackie MacMullan's most famous skill is the way she gets players to open up. That's no less the case in her most recent column for ESPNBoston.com, where she talks to Rajon Rondo about his recent slump.
Included is perhaps one reason Rondo hasn't looked quite like himself in recent weeks. The departure of his good friend, Kendrick Perkins.
"We were best friends," Rondo told MacMullan. "It's been tough. I know other guys have been through it, but I haven't. We went through everything together, right from the beginning. I missed the USA basketball camp so I could be at his wedding."
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Life for Rondo has certainly been different since the trade.
Not only off the court -- where he's lost his favorite person to hang out with -- but on it as well.
Rondo is often called the quarterback of the team. Rondo's role is to set his teammates up with the best possible shot. He's elevated himself into the discussion of the NBA's best point guards not for his scoring ability, but for the way he sees the floor.
He's lead the league in assists per game all year with 11.5, now just .2 above Steve Nash. He makes everyone around him better. His team leads the league in field goal percentage, shooting 48.8 percent and Rondo's the main reason why his hall of fame counterparts, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, are each shooting career-highs in the latter parts of their careers.
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However, as much of an effect Rondo has on his team when he's playing well, he has just as much of an effect when he isn't.
"When I don't play well, we seem to lose more," he said. "Now I'm sure that's also partly true when it comes to KG, Paul, Ray. But the ball is in my hands so much, and I've seen what happens when I spark the team.
"It's not about making shots. It's getting those guys shots, it's grabbing a rebound, it's making a defensive play."
In the beginning of the season, it seemed a disappointment when Rondo would only dish out 11 assists. The way things stand now? Boston fans would kill for 10. Rondo hasn't reached double-digit assists since he had 16 back on March 4th against Golden State.
As Rondo has slumped, so has the team. The Celtics entered last night's game against the Hornets losing four of their last six. Amidst the downward slide, Rondo has averaged just 6.7 assists per game and shot a measly 28.6 percent.
Despite sharing a roster with four future hall of famers, the 25-year old point guard is the Celtic's undisputed MVP. He put the team on his back in an intense seven-game first round series against the Bulls in 2009 and then strapped them on again last year against the Cavaliers and Magic. As Rondo goes, so does the team.
So, needless to say, his recent play has been a bit concerning to Celtics fans. It was an encouraging sign against the Hornets last night when he showed signs of life by knocking down 4-of-8 jumpers and scoring nine points. Yet, the Celtics need more than one game from Rondo going forward.
Many have questioned Rondo's health. And with good reason. Rondo's importance to the team is obvious. Because of that he's had to be on the floor a lot. His minutes have steadily increased each year that he's been in the league. This season, he's averaging 37.1 minutes per game -- the highest total of his career. That's a lot for a point guard who's battled ailments with his hamstring, ankles and plantar fascia during the 2010-11 campaign.
MacMullan also points to a pinky injury that's hampered Rondo for the past two weeks. It was the pinky that he aggravated -- and perhaps broke -- last night against the Hornets. It made his hand go numb and forced him to watch from the bench from when there was 7:12 left in the third quarter until 6:12 left in the game.
With Delonte West and Carlos Arroyo on hand to spell Rondo and give him some much needed rest, he's been given an opportunity to get healthy and focused heading into the playoffs.
Whatever the reason, whether it's been fatigue, injuries, or the loss of his best friend. One thing is clear. The Celtics need Rondo to look like his old self if the team's going to accomplish their goal of raising Banner 18.