It’s Rajon Rondo Time at 8:00 on TNT
The funny thing about this Hawks-Celtics series is that for a hard-fought, defensive struggle, no one is giving Atlanta much of a chance. Four games have been decided by a total of three points, including an overtime contest in the Garden when the Hawks were missing their top three frontcourt players. If not for Paul Pierce’s heroics in the second game of the series, things would be looking at a lot different heading into Thursday night’s Game 6. Not only are people not giving the Hawks a chance, they keep expecting Atlanta to fold like it’s 2008.
This is a different time. The Hawks are older and tougher, if not wiser on the offensive end where they’re still prone to jacking up contested isolated jump shots. They are also getting healthier and a team with Al Horford playing 40 minutes instead of Jason Collins and Ivan Johnson is a much different bird.
And yet, the expectation is that on Thursday the Celtics will wrap things up and begin the next step toward their manifest destiny, i.e. a blood-and-guts showdown with the Heat in the conference finals where LeBron James will be forced to confront his evil leprechaun nightmare yet again.
For that to happen, the Celtics need the man who came to his postgame press conference dressed in a zebra-print jacked that called to mind the great Morris Day and the Time. They need Rajon Rondo.
As is his custom, Rondo has been alternately brilliant and maddening. He was the best Boston player on the floor in Game 1 before getting himself suspended for Game 2. He recorded a triple double in Game 3 with a never-before-seen stat line of 17-14-12 and four steals despite having a mediocre game and then was even better in Game 4 with 20 points, 16 assists and one turnover.
In a brief stretch of Game 5, Rondo was the best player on the planet, scoring six points in under a minute and in the words of coach Doc Rivers, willing the tired Celtics back into the game. In most of the other 42 minutes he played, Rondo was decidedly average at best and a non-factor at worst. (Passing up on an uncontested layup to make a tough bounce pass that led to a turnover was one of many questionable decisions).
Finally, his steal at the end of regulation could have been entered into the Havlicek-Bird pantheon, but instead he dribbled into a trap and couldn’t get off a final shot. So it goes with Rondo. The playoffs are waiting for him to emerge as its signature player and Game 6 is his chance to begin to claim it for himself and begin to put a period and exclamation point on his part in the Big 3 era.