When Rajon Rondo was traded to Dallas in December, it left a void of leadership to a degree. Some may argue just what kind of leader the temperamental point guard was but he was the captain of the Celtics.
So after Friday night’s 119-101 win over the Celtics, Rondo offered some advice for the likes of Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, who are left to look up to Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Gerald Wallace.
“Their future’s bright. They’re a very young team and a lot of hard-working guys over there,” Rondo said. “You know, stick with Avery, listen to Gerald, listen to Coach Stevens. You know, he’s very positive. And he expects a lot out of the guys but he’s the right coach for these young guys.”
With Friday out of the way, Rondo will be solely focused on getting back to the NBA finals, a place he hasn’t been since losing Game 7 to the Lakers in 2010. He did get to a Game 7 of the Eastern finals in 2012 but fell in Miami.
“I just want to win,” Rondo said. “I just want to win a championship. I’ve got to get to that feeling again and we have a great, talented group of guys in Dallas that I think we can do it, maybe one piece away. Our defensive rebounding, rebound entirely has to get better as a team, and coach Carlisle made an emphasis of rebounding the basketball and we did a pretty good job.”
Rondo has been known to play at his best with a chip on his shoulder. Is he playing with a bigger chip on his shoulder than in 2010?
“I wouldn’t say that,” he replied. “I’m very blessed to be playing basketball again. I took a long time off for my ACL injury and I think I took basketball for granted up to a certain point; being able to go out there every night and do what I love to do. So I don’t know if I was able to show it as much here while I was a Celtic, but now, I say I’m still just very humbled and blessed to be playing basketball. Something I love to do every night. So I don’t take it for granted, and this is how I play the game now.”
Rondo scored 29 points Friday, the most since he scored 30 against the Bulls just over a week before tearing his ACL in Atlanta in Jan. 2013.
And Rondo, who had six rebounds himself in the win, pointed to old Pat Riley credo about rebounding and rings. He pointed to the 52-38 advantage on the boards as a big reason the Mavericks were able to hold off the Celtics down the stretch.
“You know, rebounding wins championships and that’s what we’re trying to get better at: rebounding the ball,” Rondo said.
If someone told him in his rookie year that he’d return to the Garden and get a video tribute like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett did, what would he have said?
“Sounds about right,” Rondo smirked. “I mean, those are my vets. They showed me how to work and I was surrounded by great talent in my early years of my career. Played for a great coach, Doc Rivers. And I put the work in, I worked extremely hard, and obviously playing with guys like that you’re very humbled to be a part of that, and I won a championship, couple All-Stars, and I played as hard as I can for the Celtics and I enjoyed every moment while I was here. Even this year, you know early I was taking the train so I embraced the city and was probably the best times of my career, this far.”
Friday was a great moment for Rondo but now it’s all about looking forward.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Rondo said of the first-half tribute. “I don’t forget too much. But it’s a big win more me emotionally; a big win for our team, to start our road trip off. And we’re on to Cleveland.”
And the ovation from the fans?
“I mean, it’s what I expected,” he said. “Nothing less than what I was expecting. It’s a class organization, classy fans, and a lot of respect for me and vice versa. So I didn’t expect anything less and that’s just what it is.”