Rondo Continues To Be An Enigma

Rajon Rondo is a fascinating enigma.

At times, he’s transcendently brilliant—a throwback to a bygone era, where on-court vision and basketball I.Q. triumphed over size and strength.

Other times, he can be painfully frustrating—missing easy layups, passing up open shots, and doing his best impersonation of a sulking, moody teenager.

But Rondo is captivating to watch, in whichever incarnation you find him. He fixes butts on seats, glues eyes to television sets. At times he displays a confident Iverson-esque swagger, giving the impression that he can make the impossible possible, with his unique abilities.

Simply put, it’s hard to ignore him when he’s on the floor.

And no one was ignoring him last night—except maybe the Miami Heat defenders.

Last night’s Game 2 against the Heat, reemphasized what we’re all starting to realize about Rondo—he absolutely thrives on the biggest stage. Just check out his triple-double numbers when playing in front of a national audience—they’re outstanding.

Against a Heat team that was absolutely rolling, and looking to stick another nail in Boston’s postseason coffin, Rondo had the greatest game of his career.

He scored 44 points, shooting 16 of 24 from the field, while racking up 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. Even more startling was the fact that Rondo played every minute of the game. 53 in total! Rondo had only 3 turnovers in that time.

Rondo’s display ranks up there as one of the all-time great Celtics’ playoff performances—and there are plenty of those to choose from.

Of course, Rondo’s efforts were largely in vain. The Heat received big-time displays from their stars too, and some timely scoring from their bench. The backbreaking loss may prove to be the defining moment of the series for the Celtics.

Coming back from 0-2 down, against this Miami team, will be nearly impossible.

Whatever the impact on the series, however, the night belonged to Rondo. The basketball public was given a glimpse into a world where Rondo could be the greatest point guard alive.

Chris Broussard put it best during ESPN’s halftime show, when he said: “It’s the NBA’s worst nightmare: Rondo with a jump shot.”.

And he’s right. If Rondo can consistently knock down that 15-18 footer, watch out, world! Teams have become accustomed to giving Rondo space to shot, begging him to take that mid-range jumper, and willing to live with the consequences.

If Rondo can shoot even half as well as he did last night, on a regular basis, then he may just become un-guardable. Add a jump shot to a player that already has elite level basketball I.Q., athleticism, solid defense, rebounding, and unreal playmaking abilities, and we’re talking about a top-five player in the NBA.

This is all a massive ‘if’, of course. We may never see another shooting display like that from Rondo again. Even without a jump shot, his other elite attributes still make him a genuine all-star and top-5 point guard in this league—as well as being one of the most entertaining players to watch.

But boy, he could be so much more. We saw it yesterday and lets hope we see it again.

The Meaning Of Fo’, Fo’, Fo’, (Fo’) To Duncan

Not since Michael Jordan’s sixth title has a superstar had so little to gain by winning an NBA championship. Dirk Nowitzki needed his ring to cement his place among the greats. Kobe Bryant wanted so desperately to tie MJ that he managed to shoot the Lakers out of this year’s playoffs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook long to stake their ground as the new sheriffs in the wild, wild Western Conference. And LeBron James just needs to win, and win fast.

Tim Duncan’s legacy, though, seems complete. He is a four-time champion, the best player of his generation, a top-10 all-timer and a no-discussion, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Jerry Sloan, long-time coach of that Karl Malone guy, called Duncan “probably the best player to ever play the position.”

If the individual accolades weren’t enough, Duncan scored David Robinson a pair of rings and turned Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker into potential Hall-of-Famers. At this point, winning a fifth championship is almost superfluous for the Big Fundamental.

But a Fo’, Fo’, Fo’, (Fo’)? The actual realization of Moses Malone’s 1983 playoffs prediction for his dominant Sixers team (who managed just a Fo’, Fi’, Fo’)? The addition of an extra Fo’? It would be the greatest run in NBA Playoffs history. It would give small-time, dusty old San Antonio (quietly the second-highest scoring team in the league) and boring, staid Timothy Theodore Duncan something they have never had, nor asked for: sex appeal.

No one would mistake Duncan for the best player on the Spurs’ roster, not for the past few years. But he is inarguably the team’s leader, and he remains a steady force in the paint, as evidenced by the 17-10-3 he has put up in San Antonio’s 10 postseason games (all wins, of course). This is Duncan’s team and will remain so until he retires.

The Fo’, Fo’, Fo’, (Fo’) and the glory that comes with, is his for the taking.

That said, he doesn’t much seem to care about his legacy—no more so than he cares about winning his next game. Duncan, the honors psychology graduate, might even suggest that a player’s legacy is little more than an intangible, third-party construct of the media and fans, a tool used to compare legends and generations and organize them just so.

And he might say that the Fo’, Fo’, Fo’, (Fo’), whatever it’s worth, is really for us. Because even knowing what we know, maybe we still feel the need for a bright, shiny ribbon to find, compare and come back to what, on the outside, we’ve decided is the bland, bank-shot packaging of Tim Duncan’s wildly successful career.

The Spurs Are Ready To Get A Little Nasty

It was expected the Western Conference Finals would be a classic battle, so it was a surprise to see the San Antonio Spurs down nine heading into the fourth quarter of Game 1 at home.

During a TV timeout late in the game, sideline microphones picked up Gregg Popovich imploring his team to, “get a little nasty.”

After his veteran team had coughed the ball up 15 times in the first half – they were third in the NBA this season and only averaged 13.5 turnovers – something seemed to click for the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter. They opened the quarter on a 33-18 run and finished with a 39-27 advantage.

If that’s not nasty, I don’t know what is.

But here’s the thing: the Spurs have been nasty all season. It’s not like they flipped the switch all of a sudden during the fourth quarter of the Conference Finals. They had the best record in the Western Conference, they are currently in the midst of a 19-game winning streak, Tony Parker was an MVP candidate and Tim Duncan has found the fountain of youth in the playoffs.

Still, fans and a large contingent of the media continue to sleep on the Spurs. Why? Because they aren’t flashy. They don’t have players popping up on TMZ for indiscretions off of the court and they aren’t seen yelling on ESPN or Sportsnet after dunks.

Heck, they don’t even have players showing up in commercials hawking shoes or soft drinks.

All they do is win.

“I heard we were dead,” Duncan recently joked with a reporter.

Not dead, but “old” like your coach joked when he submitted the official reason why you were sitting out a game back in March. And, for the current twenty-something generation, old means boring.

Still, despite being on his death bed, Duncan is dragging his “old” body up and down the court while averaging 17.4 points and 9.2 rebounds in the playoffs.

The other old guy on the roster, Manu Ginobili, is rocking a solar panel on the back of his head while taking the NBA’s current sixth man of the year, James Harden, to school.

Twitter exploded during Game 1 with jokes that Harden should lend Ginobili some hair from his beard for his bald spot, but the sneaky Euro got the last laugh as he exploded for 26 points in only 34 minutes off the bench.

Plus, Ginobili was a key part of San Antonio’s surge in the fourth quarter that put the dagger into the hearts of the Thunder.

Harden, meanwhile, had a brutal game as he went 7-17 from the field.

Parker, not to be ignored, is averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 assists. His biggest contribution has been on the defensive end as he has frustrated Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.

The heart of the Spurs, Popovich, is putting his counterpart, Scott Brooks to shame. During a pivotal stretch to start the fourth quarter, San Antonio went on a 18-5 run, yet Brooks failed to call a single timeout during that run.

Popovich was in rare form calling out his players to be more nasty, getting timeouts at key moments and maximizing matchups on the court.

It’s a shame that fans don’t appreciate the greatness of this Spurs franchise over the past decade But, as Popovich begged his team to do, the Spurs are willing to get a little nasty and gritty on the court if it helps them win a Championship. Who cares if it’s not flashy? Not the Spurs, because they are content with the shine that comes from winning, not from the media glare.

And, along the way, the Spurs are showing that even old guys can get nasty once in awhile.

Fisher’s Biggest Impact Not In A Box Score

Leadership, heart and courage are just a few words used to describe Derek Fisher by his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates, however, experience is what they claim to be the most important.

“He’s a great leader by example and with his voice,” Royal Ivey said. “He’s very calm and his demeanor is out of this world. That helps. He brings this kind of calmness to the team.”

Ivey went on to explain that Fisher’s knowledge on how to connect with every player in the locker room has been key in his ability to click with the team on such short notice.

Fisher joined the Thunder on Mar. 21 after playing and starting 43 games with the Los Angeles Lakers, the franchise for which he earned five NBA championships. The Lakers traded Fisher to the Houston Rockets. Houston bought out his contract and a few days later, he signed with Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City was in need of a backup point guard due to Eric Maynor’s ACL injury suffered in January. Rookie Reggie Jackson filled in for Maynor, but his lack of experience forced the Thunder’s hand in signing Fisher.

“Being a veteran in this league and being at the pinnacle of winning championships really says a lot,” Ivey said. “Getting his wisdom, experience and competitiveness when he came on board was a plus.”

Fisher’s role took a dramatic change when he signed with Oklahoma City. For much of his career, he had been the starting point guard for the NBA’s  premier franchise. When he signed with the Thunder, he became the backup for the league’s youngest and arguably most talented team. He’s had success working with players like Westbrook, Ivey Kevin Durant and James Harden and has helped shine a light on winning in the Thunder locker room.

“Derek is a natural born leader,” Westbrook said. “He knows what it takes to win. He understands the things that you need to do to get better. He communicates to us what it takes to get to the next level and it’s really helped me, Kevin and James a lot.”

The practice court is no different for Fisher. His teammates claim that he still communicates like the starting point guard and provides advice when need be. In a short period of time, he’s become a valuable extension of head coach Scott Brooks.

“He does a great job of staying on guys,” Ivey said. “As a player and as a coach he’s a great leader. He’s a great teacher. He sees things that maybe Russell (Westbrook) or I don’t see and he does a great job of walking through and showing us. He’s just a great communicator.”

Fisher’s experience has shown so far in the playoffs. He’s averaging six points per game and is shooting over 53% from beyond the three-point line. He is also playing good defense at age 37. In the Lakers series he was asked to guard Kobe Bryant and had success on numerous possessions.

Going into their Western Conference Finals matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder will look to Fisher for strong execution on both the offensive and defensive end in a limited amount of minutes.

Fisher doesn’t get the same playing time that he got in L.A., but he still contributes.

“What Derek (Fisher) brings to the team can’t be measured,” Brooks said. “His ability to connect in the locker room in such a short period of time has been huge for our young guys like Kevin, Russell and James. You can’t find that on a box score.”

Blake Griffin Needed Some Adversity

Blake Griffin is on the cusp of something tremendous, and it’s all thanks to an embarrassing sweep by the San Antonio Spurs.

Perhaps the most explosive player in the league, he plays the game with the sort of captured chaos that rewards the I’ll-wait-to-go-to-the-bathroom anticipation of crowds in every arena. He possesses the natural talent to put up a 22-11-4 every night and the personality to turn himself into one of the most marketable athletes in the country.

And yet, getting swept by the Spurs in the second round of the NBA Playoffs might be the best thing that ever happened to Griffin. For all his high-flying prowess, his ability to fill out a box score, his wry smile that makes us think maybe we should consider a Kia, Blake Griffin is a liability to his team. And Chris Paul can fix that.

Paul’s descriptors say it all: architect, magician, maestro. But above all, he is a mean-streak competitor who doesn’t tolerate losing. And although Paul has done many things to enhance Griffin’s game and confidence—including his allowing Griffin to be the final player announced at home games—this summer will say even more about their relationship and Griffin’s commitment to improving his game.

Had the Clippers advanced further, had they played a lesser team, had they squeaked out win after win on Paul’s “I got this” confidence alone, Griffin might not have seen that his offensive game needs to evolve quickly. He might not have been so easily convinced that his 6.9 boards-per-game average in the postseason is indicative of a player who needs to develop playoff physicality. And he might not have appreciated that he needs to spend the summer on the charity stripe, fixing the hitch in his motion.

A player of Griffin’s caliber needs to be dominant throughout the game. But Griffin, with his poor free throw shooting, predictable set of offensive moves and suspect defense, sometimes finds himself hindering his team during the most critical moments of close games.

According to 82games.com, Griffin was 85th among qualifiers in crunch time scoring this season, placing him behind such round-ball luminaries as Gordon Hayward, Mike Dunleavy and Gustavo Ayón. (82games.com defines “crunch time” as the fourth quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, neither team ahead by more than five points.) He shot just 43% from the field and 58% from the line, and was among the top 10 in turnovers per 48 minutes—all numbers that, with Paul’s guidance and competitive push, can be improved upon.

Of course, Griffin is still a 23-year-old in his second year in the league. He might still be considering what the hell just happened in his first postseason. And he hasn’t yet begun to reach his mental prime. There’s plenty of time for him to develop on both ends of the court, but if he’s willing to learn immediately from this series, he’ll get there that much sooner.